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James goes from spectator to contributor for 49ers

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James goes from spectator to contributor for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) LaMichael James has transformed himself from a rookie spectator forced to watch the first three months of the season to a key contributor to a Super Bowl team in a matter of weeks for the San Francisco 49ers.

After being inactive the first 12 games of the season, James has become an impact player for the 49ers in their run to the Super Bowl next week against Baltimore.

His long kickoff return set up the go-ahead score in a late-season win in New England. His experience running the zone read helped Colin Kaepernick rush for 181 yards in a win to open the playoffs against Green Bay. Then James got into the scoring act himself last week, starting San Francisco's comeback in a 28-24 win over Atlanta in the NFC championship.

``I had a lot to learn,'' James said. ``I'm still learning. I'm very blessed to be in the situation I'm in.''

Fresh off scoring his first professional touchdown in last week's win over the Falcons, James is finally fulfilling the expectations the Niners had for him after drafting him in the second round last April following a stellar college career at Oregon.

``From the first time he stepped on the field, he's been dynamic,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Getting on the field was the hard part. James was inactive the first 12 games as he had to adjust to playing from a huddle after being part of Oregon's fast-paced offense for three years and to learn a much more extensive playbook than he was used to with the Ducks.

James dutifully worked at learning his craft, making his contributions as a scout team running back and receiver and soaking in whatever tips he could get from starter Frank Gore and running backs coach Tom Rathman.

``It was very different,'' James said. ``I'd never really been in a huddle until I was in high school. Actually, sitting in a huddle and then having to remember it - and not just run it - that was a little bit different for me, but it all works out.''

James got his chance after Kendall Hunter went down with a season-ending Achilles' injury in New Orleans on Nov. 25. The Niners needed a change-of-pace back to team with Gore and James proved to be a perfect fit.

James was helped by the fact that the Niners offense had changed a bit with the switch at quarterback to Kaepernick from Alex Smith, with the team using more of the read-option plays James was so proficient at in college.

``Once he started getting comfortable, we saw a dynamic football player,'' safety Donte Whitner said. ``It's a testament to him to be able to sit on the sideline and be on the developmental squad, as we like to call it, here for so long and actually knowing that you can play football. Actually coming from a big university, playing in a lot of big games, playing a lot of big games and being a big-time player, and having to sit out and be humbled like that, that's a testament to him and the character he has.''

James rushed for 5,082 yards and scored 58 touchdowns in three seasons for the Ducks, including 471 yards of offense and four touchdowns in two games against Stanford when Harbaugh ran the Cardinal.

Playing for a perennial title contender at Oregon has prepared James for the big stage of the NFL playoffs. He played in three BCS bowl games, including the national championship game against Auburn at the end of his second year in January 2011. He capped his college career by rushing for 159 yards and one touchdown in a 45-38 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin last January.

``I don't think there's too much difference from playing a BCS game at Oregon,'' James said of the NFL playoffs. ``I think it's really helped me out playing big games like these. It's second nature to me. I really don't think it's too big a deal.''

He has shown that so far, playing his best on the biggest stage. After making his debut against Miami on Dec. 9 with eight carries for 30 yards, James delivered his most important play of the regular season the following week in a prime-time game at New England.

He returned a kick 62 yards after New England rallied back from 31-3 down to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on the next play as the Niners went on to the win that proved to be the difference in the NFC West race with Seattle.

The big plays have kept coming in the playoffs. He was the decoy on Kaepernick's 56-yard option keeper that gave San Francisco the lead for good two weeks ago in the 49ers' playoff opener against Green Bay.

He then had five carries for 34 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown run that started the Niners comeback in Atlanta that has them preparing for the Super Bowl.

``He always has been a smart player,'' Gore said. ``First, coming in the offense was kind of different. Now the offense is similar to what he did in college. That helps him a lot.''

NOTES: LB Ahmad Brooks (shoulder) practiced for the first time this week. ... TE Garrett Celek (foot) is still sidelined.

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AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report

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Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

Who the Orioles could pick at No. 2 in 2020 MLB Draft, according to one expert

In the 2019 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles took a major step toward rebuilding their roster and farm system by selecting catcher Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall. The switch-hitting backstop projects to become the cornerstone of the franchise. This year, the team can add another major piece in the 2020 MLB Draft as they have the second overall pick.

Though the draft has been shortened from 40 rounds to just five, it doesn't truly impact what Baltimore will do at No. 2. There, they will still have an opportunity to select the next piece of their future, and plenty of good options will be available.

But, unlike last year where Rutchsman was the shoo-in all along, the choices are not as clear cut in 2020. MLB Pipeline senior writer Jim Callis, who has closely studied the group of prospects, believes there are a few different ways the Orioles could go.

“I don’t think it’s a clear cut decision at No. 2 yet," Callis told MASN's Steve Melewski.

When it comes to who Callis could see Baltimore selecting, the dream-scenario would be Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State University. However, it's considered a dream because the most likely outcome is that the Detriot Tigers will take Torkelson first overall. The first baseman has a special bat according to Callis and resembles the talent Rutschman has demonstrated at the plate.

Though there is a slim chance of it happening, the idea of those two one day sharing a lineup card in Baltimore would have the Orioles over the moon with excitement.

“To image those two guys in the middle of the lineup," Callis said. "Woo, that would be pretty exciting.”

Yet, if Torkelson does go No. 1, there is still plenty of talent available in the draft class. A name that comes to mind for Callis is Vanderbilt's Austin Martin. The position player asserted himself as a top prospect after his 2019 collegiate season in which he led the SEC in batting average (.392) and on-base percentage (.486) all while helping his team dominate the toughest conference in baseball and claim a College World Series title.

In Martin, the Orioles could be getting another reliable bat for years and years to come, one Callis claims to be the "best pure hitter in the draft." However, Martin's major area of concern is defense, as many are still unsure as to what his best position is. 

“I think there’s some questions as to where he’s gonna play," Callis said of Martin. “Is he a center fielder, a third baseman, an offensive second baseman? That’s a little unclear.”

After struggling in the infield, largely due to an inability to consistently make the throws from the left side of the diamond, Martin made the move to center field. However, due to the shortened 2020 season, he lost valuable reps in the outfield. Despite that, Callis sees that and one other option as Martin's best spot in the pros.

“My guess is he’s going to be a center fielder or second baseman," Callis said.

If the Orioles are not sold on Martin, or want to grab a player of similar skill but for a little less price, Nick Gonzales out of New Mexico State could be a fit as well. Versatile, he led the NCAA in batting in 2019 with a .423 average.

Baltimore could also decide it wants to add a pitcher at No. 2 overall, and based on how Callis views that portion of the draft class, it could be a beneficial decision. After a down year for pitchers in 2019, things look a lot better in 2020.

“[2019] was not a good year for college pitching. It was probably, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, the worst draft I’ve seen in terms of first-round caliber college arms," Callis said. "This year, college pitching is a strength. There’s a lot of good college pitching.”

The best, according to Callis, is Texas A&M's Asa Lacy. The left-handed starter was off to a strong start to the 2020 season (3-0, 0.75 ERA) before games were canceled. The Orioles could always use another arm to one day rely upon at the Major League level, and Callis sees Lacy as the best prospect to fit that mold.

Even with Lacy's potential, the talented pitching class may sway Baltimore away from him. The Orioles also hold the No. 30 and No. 39 picks in the draft in addition to their first-round selection, and Callis has a feeling that other very good arms will be available.

“There’s gonna be really good pitchers available at 30," Callis said. "Much more so than I think the hitters that will be available at 30.”

With the draft just a couple of weeks away, Martin, Gonzales and Lacy are seen as the three most likely options for the Orioles. No matter who the team ends up selecting with the No. 2 overall pick, Callis believes that they will become a big part of Baltimore's future success. A few years down the line, the 2020 class should have a good reputation in Callis' eyes.

“It’s the first year of the decade. I would bet that we look back in history and this would be one of the top two or three draft classes of the 2020s," Callis said.

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Ravens' Marlon Humphrey gets creative for morning workout, climbs rock hill

Ravens' Marlon Humphrey gets creative for morning workout, climbs rock hill

With the NFL season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the beginning of OTAs and other training sessions have been delayed. Therefore, players have had to get creative with their workouts based on their surroundings.

From truck pushing to weight-lifting sessions in mom and dad's driveway, there has been no shortage of unique workouts across the league. However, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey may have just claimed the title of most creative.

On Monday, the star defender shared a video on Twitter of a workout he and his brothers participated in. The three looked to be focusing on cardio and strength-building, but not in the way it's typically done. Finding a large pile of gravel and rocks, they took turns running up the terrain. It's easy to feel the burn in your thighs and calves just looking at it.

Humphrey and his brothers made the exercise look rather easy, though it is certainly anything but that. Even the smallest piece of gravel on flat ground can sometimes trip someone up, and here, the cornerback is running up a hill composed entirely of it.

After former Ravens safety Eric Weddle responded to the video by letting Humphrey know just how insane the workout is, Humphrey admitted it didn't last long.

If this type of tricky surface isn't slowing Humphrey down, there isn't much that can. When the NFL season does begin, it could be a long year for opposing wide receivers who are tasked with somehow escaping his coverage.

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