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Braves' McCann aiming to be ready for opening day

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Braves' McCann aiming to be ready for opening day

ATLANTA (AP) Brian McCann would like to be behind the plate on opening day and beat the projections which have him missing the start of the season.

Even so, the Braves catcher realizes he must be cautious in his return from major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.

McCann said Wednesday ``things are ramping up'' midway through his six-month rehabilitation schedule. He began throwing last week and started running two weeks ago.

After making six straight All-Star teams, McCann struggled last season as he tried to play through the injury. He hit only .230, easily a career low and almost 50 points below his career average.

McCann is expected to miss at least the first two weeks of the season. He said his goal is to convince team doctors in spring training otherwise.

He knows it won't be easy.

``I'm going to have to persuade a lot of people,'' McCann said. ``I'm going to have to show them I'm ready to go and my shoulder is healed. I plan on doing that. I don't know if that's going to happen, but that's my mindset. I want to be ready as soon as possible. I keep getting better each day.''

Braves general manager Frank Wren said doctors who will be wary of clearing the catcher for jarring hits which could cause a setback to the shoulder.

``With the surgery he had, he'll be able to hit, he'll be able to throw, he'll be 100 percent in those areas in spring training,'' Wren said. ``It's just the last risk factor is diving and sliding. That's the area in the shoulder repair our doctors want to make sure is healed. The only way you can do that is with time. You can't rehab it to make it heal faster. That's going to be the last thing before they turn him loose.''

If doctors hold firm to six months from the surgery for McCann's recovery, he would be cleared on April 15. If so, he would miss two weeks - a small price if it helps to raise the odds McCann can return to his All-Star form.

``I think his mindset is that he's going to be ready,'' Wren said. ``Our doctors would rather be safe than sorry and will probably pull the reins back some. But if everything goes well in spring training, I don't think it will be more than a couple weeks before he is ready to rejoin us. I know that's probably two weeks too long for him, but we don't want to put him in a situation where he has any major setbacks.''

McCann, who will be 29 when the season opens, is a career .279 hitter. His string of six straight All-Star appearances began in 2006, his first full season. He has hit at least 20 homers six times and has three seasons with more than 90 RBIs.

The Braves lost backup catcher David Ross, who signed with Boston. McCann's new backup is Gerald Laird, who played with Detroit last season.

Last season's low point for McCann came when he was left out of the starting lineup for the Braves' wild-card loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished the season with respectable power numbers - 20 homers and 67 RBIs - but he hit only .219 with seven homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break.

``He was swinging almost one-armed,'' said Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. ``It's tough. But he's tough and such a competitor that he was going to play through the pain.

``I knew it was bothering him. You could tell after watching him hit and play for the last seven years he wasn't doing the things I was used to seeing him doing. I knew something wasn't right.''

McCann said he ``tried everything and it just didn't work for me.''

``I could swing a bat,'' McCann said. ``I just couldn't swing it and be effective like I wanted to. I still felt I could get a big hit for the team and I was still valuable, so I kept going.

``I feel like sometimes as an athlete you take a couple steps back to go a couple steps forward so I'm looking to coming back better than ever.''

McCann said his shoulder already feels better than last season.

``I'm limited right now in what I can do in the gym but I feel amazing,'' he said. ``I feel great.

``My range of motion is better now than it was last season, which kind of shows me it's been there for a while now, I just didn't notice it. It just got worse and worse.''

Wren, McCann and five other players, including Uggla and Jason Heyward, spent Wednesday morning at City of Refuge, an Atlanta mission located only a few miles from Turner Field. The players helped serve a meal and visited a daycare for children of clients working at the facility.

The visit was part of the team's series of offseason public appearances through the Southeast.

The 6 craziest things that happened in Week 7 of the college football season

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USA TODAY Sports

The 6 craziest things that happened in Week 7 of the college football season

Four teams dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten, Louisville's coaching staff is way too intense, everyone from the state of Michigan is an embarrassment and yeah, Oklahoma and Texas still don't like each other.

Here are the six craziest things that happened in Week 6.

Unbeatens beware

Four undefeated teams suffered their first losses of the season this week as the College Football Playoff Grim Reaper began to rear his ugly head.

The most significant loss was that of Georgia at home to division rival South Carolina and it became evident at the end of the game that neither team wanted to win. I mean, why else would Will Muschamp call for a 57-yard field goal attempt in a tie game with 40 seconds left on the clock and with Georgia having all their timeous left? Why else would Georgia take itself out of field goal range with an illegal shift right before the end of regulation? The Gamecocks had a chance to win after recovering a fumble on the first overtime, but a botched field goal kept the game alive. South Carolina would kick a field goal in the second overtime and a missed field goal by Georgia would give the Gamecocks the win.

Florida also dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten, but that game was going to knock someone off as both the Gators and LSU were undefeated heading into Death Valley on Saturday.

Temple handed Memphis its first loss of the season in an afternoon tilt on Saturday and Wake Forest was also upset at the hands of Louisville who marched into the Demon Deacons’ home field and put up 62 points.

On a related note, the Orange Bowl has to be rooting so hard for Clemson to not make the playoff this year, or the ACC is going to send a mediocre team into one of the best bowl games in the country.

Only 12 undefeated teams remain at the FBS level after this week's action.

Louisville’s defensive line coach needs to chill

Mark Ivey is the defensive line coach at Louisville. To say he is intense would be putting it mildly.

The commentators laugh at how “fired up” the coaches are, but there are several moments in there where it is hard to tell if they are just super pumped or if people players are trying break up a legitimate fight.

Maybe trying to relive the glory days of your playing career during warmups is a bad idea.

Every player from both Oklahoma and Texas was given an unsportsmanlike penalty during the pregame

Oklahoma and Texas is one of the most storied rivalries in college football, even if we have no idea what it’s supposed to be called anymore. The Red River Shootout? The Red River Rivalry? The Red River Hootenanny? The Red River Hullabaloo?

Tensions were high for this game which led to a scuffle during pregame.

More than one.

Realizing that they were losing control of the game before it even started, the referees assessed every player on both teams an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Fun fact, in college football a player is ejected after their second unsportsmanlike penalty in a game so every player was one flag away from getting the boot.

In the end, only one player was ejected and that was for targeting. No one else received a second unsportsmanlike penalty and Oklahoma went on to beat Texas 34-27.

This season could not get any more embarrassing for Michigan

Jim Harbaugh: “Hold my beer.”

The Wolverines won on the road at Illinois on Saturday by a comfortable-looking margin of 42-25. That score, however, does not reflect the nearly epic collapse Michigan faced in the second half.

Jim Harbaugh and Co. jumped out to a 28-0 lead on the Illini before Illinois could even get on the board. Illinois, led by a backup quarterback, managed to score the next 25 points, trimming the lead down to just three early in the fourth quarter. From there, seeing their season was about to collapse in such an epic way woke Michigan back up. The Wolverines went on to add two extra touchdowns to their score while Illinois was shutout the remainder of the game.

Michigan’s quest to prove why they do not deserve to be a ranked team continues next week at Happy Valley where the Wolverines will take on Penn State.

Mark Dantonio answers a “dumbass” question with a dumbass answer

Speaking of disappointing football teams in the state of Michigan, let’s now move on to Michigan State. The Spartans stink on offense as was evident in their 38-0 loss to Wisconsin. In three losses this season, Michigan State has a combined 17 points. That’s bad. What’s worse is the fact that they were bad on offense last year as well, but virtually nothing was done to improve the offense as head coach Mark Dantonio returned the entire offensive coaching staff, but with changed titles and duties.

So now after a humiliating blowout loss in which the offense was made to look as inept as ever, it is fair to wonder if perhaps not making any changes on offense was a mistake. At least most people would think it was fair.

When head coach Mark Dantonio was asked whether his decision on the offensive staff in the offseason was a mistake, here was his response:

Dantonio is absolutely right. That is a “dumbass” question because we all know the answer is yes, it was a mistake, it is going to cost Michigant State its season and not doing anything about it makes him look bad. But go ahead, keep turning your frustrations on the media. That ought to help the offense.

Tennessee becomes the last Power 5 team to earn an FBS win

If you had to guess who the last Power 5 team to earn an FBS win this season was, who would you guess? Kansas? Oregon State? Illinois? One of the other perennial cellar-dwellers?

Nope, you’re all wrong. The answer is Tennessee.

The Volunteers actually won a game against a team with a pulse on Saturday, earning the ugly 20-10 win over Mississippi State. It still counts though proving that there really is no such thing as an ugly win, just an ugly season.

Tennesse improved its record to an impressive 2-4, a fact that right now is prompting every football fan in the south to stand up and spontaneously chant “S-E-C! S-E-C!”

Prior to Saturday, Tennessee’s only win of the season was against FCS Chattanooga. Yes, the Volunteers have losses to Florida and Georgia, both impressive teams. They also have losses against Georgia State and BYU so no, Tennessee is not simply a victim of the brutal SEC schedule.

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

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Lamar Jackson makes history with career day in win over the Bengals

BALTIMORE — Lamar Jackson set the tone for Sunday’s game on the Ravens' first drive of the afternoon. 

He rushed just twice, one of which went for a touchdown, but had 57 yards on the game-tying opening drive. 

Jackson finished with 152 yards on the ground — a career high — to carry the Ravens to a 23-17 win over the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. 

“I take advantage, like I said before, and I’m trying to win at the end of the day,” Jackson said after the game. “If I’ve got to run, I’ve got to do it and today that’s what it was. Sometimes I had to pass. Sometimes I had to run.”

He did throw for 236 yards and completed 21 of 33 passes, too. But the story was his legs, which kept the Bengals off-balance all day.

“Lamar was able to get out and run because of the way they were playing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They were playing kind of spill defense. They really didn’t want us to run the ball up inside with our running backs, and that opened up some other things."

Jackson now has 460 rushing yards on the season and is on pace for over 1,200. He’s also on pace for just over 4,000 passing yards.

His dual-threat ability has flummoxed nearly every team the Ravens have played this season. Jackson has had over 300 scrimmage yards in all but one (last week in against the Steelers) of the Ravens' games. 

“That’s the most frustrating thing for a defense,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “You have a play covered, and he’s an elite athlete. We’ve played a couple of good athletes. He’s one of the rarest I’ve seen in person. Just one little crease and he’s got 30 yards on you.”

Cincinnati sold out to stop the interior run, and Jackson and the rest of the Baltimore running attack burned the Bengals on the outside. 

Jackson’s elusiveness was never more evident than on the Ravens' last full drive of the game. The Ravens received the ball with 13:32 left in the fourth quarter and a 20-10 lead. They didn’t give the ball back to the Bengals until there was just over three minutes to play.

“I catch myself on the sideline stretching because, you know, they’ll be holding the ball for a minute and we’ve got to stay warm,” Matthew Judon said. “He picks us up in crucial times and keeps getting first downs. It’s hard, man. You can’t cover everybody and keep a spy on him [at] all times.”

The nine minute, 46 second drive, highlighted by a 16-yard Jackson scramble on 3rd and 14, put away any realistic chance the Bengals had of pulling off an upset.

It capped off a historic day for Jackson and his place in the NFL record books. He became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 150 yards and register at least 200 yards passing in a regular season game.

The Bengals sold out to stop interior rushes and mostly took away big passing plays from the Ravens. Jackson just made the Bengals pick their poison when it came to choosing what to stop. 

And Jackson made Cincinnati realized that whatever it chose was still poison.

“He was cutting it back, throwing outside and running around,” Bengals linebacker Preston Brown said. “He was just having fun on us, and that’s what you never want to have done.”

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