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   On the calendar:  Friday, 4/3/2015
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Saban unapologetic about signing Taylor despite his past

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Alabama coach Nick Saban steadfastly defended his signing of defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, who has now been kicked off his second Southeastern Conference team for domestic violence arrests.

Taylor, who some say should never had been on the team, was one of two Crimson Tide players arrested over the weekend. Defensive back Geno Smith was charged with the second DUI, including the second DUI of his Alabama career.

A defiant Saban was unapologetic Monday about choosing to sign Taylor, who was also dismissed from Georgia before signing with Alabama for similar allegations of domestic violence.

"I'm not sorry for giving him an opportunity," Saban said. "I'm sorry for the way things worked out.

"I'm not apologizing for the opportunity that we gave him. I wanted to try to help the guy make it work. It didn't work. We're sorry that it didn't work and we're sorry that there was an incident and we're sorry for the people that were involved in the incident. But we're not apologizing for what we did, and we're going to continue to try to create opportunities in the future."

Kathy Redmond Brown, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, said when Alabama signed Taylor in January, she thought it was "a huge mistake" for the message it sent to teammates and to Taylor and because it opens the school up to a Title IX claim.

Saban said on national signing day in February that the lineman "was the kind of guy that deserved a second chance." He said he had spoken to Taylor's high school and junior college coaches, but Georgia's Mark Richt and Athens-Clarke County district attorney Ken Mauldin have indicated that Saban didn't contact them.

"When anybody says, we think this guy deserves a second chance, what qualifies him to say that?" Brown said. "If you're not talking to the prosecutor and you're not talking to the coach, what qualifies him to say what this guy deserves or not?

"And what qualifies as a mistake? If he beat up (Saban's) daughter and grabbed her by the throat, would that be a mistake? That is the crux of the issue."

Saban stopped short Monday of saying he wouldn't recruit another player who had been previously involved in a domestic abuse case. But he added, "We would certainly be very cautious about any player that had any kind of character problem, but especially something like this."

Taylor signed with the Tide months after his dismissal from Georgia and was arrested Saturday. The case in Georgia is still pending.

Saban said Taylor knew he was signed under a "zero tolerance policy." His case has been referred to the university's judicial affairs, according to school spokeswoman Deborah Lane.

The coach said Taylor had been undergoing counseling without missing a session.

"He was in those programs, and it didn't work," Saban said.

Tiffany Carr, interim director of the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, praised Saban for taking swift action in removing Taylor for the team but said it's not typically a crime committed only once.

"Domestic violence is a learned behavior, it's a cycle of violence and control," Carr said. "In 21 years, I've never known it to happen just one time."

Taylor has been charged with domestic violence third-degree assault and domestic violence third-degree criminal mischief, Tuscaloosa police said.

The 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman was dismissed from Georgia in July 2014 following his arrest on aggravated assault and family violence charges for allegedly punching and choking his girlfriend.

It is unclear if the incidents involved the same woman.

Taylor also was among four Georgia football players arrested in March 2014 for receiving double payments for checks of $71.50 issued by the school's athletic department.

He played last season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi.

Saban addressed the team before Monday's practice, talking about Taylor's dismissal and domestic violence.

Though Taylor was signed with a history of domestic violence, center Ryan Kelly said: "There's a standard that coach Saban and this university hold us to, and that's just something that we don't stand for here."

Alabama athletic director Bill Battle said in a statement Sunday that Taylor had received "extensive efforts to assist him."

"All of us hope that Jonathan and the young lady involved can deal constructively with the issues that led to this situation, and their aftermath, so that both of them can have productive, healthy futures," he said.

A spokesman said Battle was not immediately available for further comment on Monday.

Smith, meanwhile, was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol Saturday for the second time in his career. Saban said he would be subject to unspecified disciplinary action but that he didn't consider dismissing him from the team, and he never has for a second offense with drugs or alcohol.

Smith hasn't been allowed to practice this week.

Alabama had also re-signed defensive lineman D.J. Pettway out of a junior college last year, 10 months after the school dismissed him. Pettway was kicked off the team after he and three other Crimson Tide players were charged with robbery in Tuscaloosa, but he apparently has steered clear of further trouble since returning from junior college.

---

Follow John Zenor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jzenor

Tue, 31 Mar 2015 12:01:00 +0000
Lightning clinch playoff berth with 5-3 win at Montreal

MONTREAL (AP) Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop had two assists, Vladislav Namestnikov scored two goals, and the Lightning clinched an Eastern Conference playoff berth with a 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.

Bishop started plays that set up breakaway goals by Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin in the second period. Nikita Kucherov and Anton Stralman also scored for Tampa Bay, which trails Atlantic Division-leading Montreal by one point.

The Lightning won all five games this season against the Canadiens, outscoring them 21-8. Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round of last year's playoffs.

Bishop, who made 25 saves, is the first goalie with two assists in a game since Buffalo's Ryan Miller did it on Feb. 25, 2014.

Max Pacioretty, Jeff Petry and P.K. Subban scored for Montreal, which was outshot 31-13 through two one-sided periods and 44-28 overall.

Tue, 31 Mar 2015 02:35:00 +0000
Jameis Winston working to leave off-field problems behind

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston has spent much of the past two months crisscrossing the nation, sharpening his quarterback skills and trying to convince NFL teams he's learned from mistakes made off the field and ready to become the face of a franchise.

A lot of his effort was geared toward the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have the first pick this year's NFL draft.

Heading into Winston's pro day at Florida State on Tuesday, by all accounts the 2013 Heisman winner has made a strong impression.

All the Bucs' decision-makers, coach Lovie Smith, general manager Jason Licht, and - maybe even more importantly - the Glazer family, which owns the team, appear to be comfortable with Winston's history of off-the-field issues.

"I realize he has made some mistakes, gotten himself in some situations he would like to do over, but we don't see anything that we can't help him with," Smith said during last week's NFL spring meetings in Phoenix, Arizona.

"We think that's behind him, and that's why we feel comfortable," the coach added. "You can't indict young people for some stupid things that they do. We all clean up."

Winston made it a point to show he's capable of doing just that, despite his checkered past.

He faced a sexual assault allegation, but was never charged in the alleged incident. He walked out of a supermarket without paying for $32 worth of crab legs and suspended three baseball games, then missed a football game after climbing on a table in the FSU student union and shouting an "offensive and vulgar" comment about women.

Winston hasn't shied away from questions about his past.

In addition to being interviewed by Tampa Bay and other teams during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Indiana, the 20-year-old visited and toured the Bucs headquarters in March, meeting with Smith, Licht and the three Glazer brothers who run the team.

Winston also requested - and received - a meeting this month with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

The young quarterback is represented by The Legacy Agency, whose high-profile football clients include running backs DeMarco Murray and Reggie Bush.

He has said he does not plan to attend the draft in Chicago, instead choosing to stay home in Alabama to enjoy the occasion with family and friends.

Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer told the Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times during the meetings in Phoenix that - based on extensive research Tampa Bay has done - the owners would be comfortable with using the No. 1 pick on either Winston or 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, the draft's other top quarterback prospect.

Smith reiterated his belief that Winston's off-field missteps have been more the result of the quarterback making immature choices than Winston being a bad kid.

"We are saying that he's done some things that are not OK, and we don't feel like in the future he would make those same type of decisions," the coach said. "You have to look in the eye and feel comfortable with the answers you're getting. He's admitted the mistakes he's made, and I'm one who believes in second chances."

With everyone signing off on any character questions, that would make it simply a football decision.

Winston has worked this winter in San Diego, California, with private quarterbacks tutor George Whitfield, spent time in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with former San Francisco 49ers and current Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, and also showcased his arm and athletic ability at the NFL Combine last month.

Teams will get their next close-up view Tuesday, when Winston will throw to some of his college teammates during Florida State's pro day in Tallahassee, Florida.

There seems to be no debate, however, over Winston's potential. He's a quarterback who completed 66 percent of his passes for nearly 8,000 yards and 65 touchdowns in two college seasons.

And Tampa Bay, which hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, absolutely needs a quarterback.

The Bucs, coming off a season in which they went 2-14 and ranked 30th in total offense, haven't had the first overall pick in the draft since 1987, when they took Vinny Testaverde. He had a long, successful career that didn't really take off until after the team gave up on him becoming the franchise QB they've never had.

Winston was 26-1 as a starter in college, leading Florida State to a national championship as a red-shirt freshman and helping the Seminoles earn a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoffs last season.

Setting the stage for the possible selection of Winston or Mariota, who also visited One Buc Place this month, Tampa Bay released incumbent starter Josh McCown with a year left on the contract he signed as a free agent in 2014.

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Mon, 30 Mar 2015 21:10:00 +0000
Rose takes contact in practice

CHICAGO (AP) Bulls star Derrick Rose took contact in practice Monday for the first time since undergoing right knee surgery late last month.

The Bulls hope to get the former MVP point guard back for a playoff run. He had a minor procedure on Feb. 27 and was expected to miss four to six weeks.

Rose sat out most of last season because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. He also tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2012 playoff opener and missed the entire following season.

Tue, 31 Mar 2015 01:22:00 +0000
Bryant sent to minors by Cubs; union threatens litigation

MESA, Ariz. (AP) Third baseman Kris Bryant was reassigned by the Chicago Cubs to their minor league camp on Monday despite an outstanding spring training at the plate, triggering a threat of litigation from the players' association.

Bryant hit .425 in the exhibition season with nine homers and 15 RBIs in 40 at-bats. If the 23-year-old spends 12 or more days in the minor leagues, Chicago would delay him from becoming eligible for free agency by one year, until after the 2021 season, according to baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

"Today is a bad day for baseball," the Major League Baseball Players Association said in a statement. "I think we all know that even if Kris Bryant were a combination of the greatest players to play our game, and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both."

Major League Baseball defended the Cubs' decision.

"In accordance with long established practice under the Basic Agreement, a club has an unfettered right to determine which players are part of its opening-day roster," MLB said in a statement. "This issue was discussed extensively in bargaining in 2011, and the principle was not changed. We do not believe that it is appropriate for the players' association to make the determination that Kris Bryant should be on the Cubs' 25-man roster while another player, who, unlike Bryant, is a member of its bargaining unit, should be cut or sent to the minor leagues."

Bryant, who is not on the 40-man roster, was slowed defensively in the middle of camp by right shoulder soreness.

"It's always difficult to send young players down because it is news they don't want to hear," Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said. "We entered camp with the presumptive move of sending him to Triple-A, and it is always the presumptive move for us with young players who haven't played in the big leagues yet. You see how camp develops and how the roster shapes up to see if there is grounds for an exception to the rule."

Bryant was not available to discuss the move. His agent, Scott Boras, called it "Ersatz Baseball."

"MLB is not the MLB without the best players," Boras said in a text message to The Associated Press. "Kris excelled at every level and earned the right of entry. The CBA is at the apogee of wrongs incentivizing clubs to create a product less than best. Bryant's situation is the badge for change to the CBA player service structure."

Preparing for its first season under manager Joe Maddon, the Cubs selected the contract of left-hander Phil Coke from Triple-A Iowa, optioned second baseman Javy Baez to Iowa and reassigned shortstop Addison Russell were assigned to minor league camp. Coke gets a $2.25 million, one-year contract and the chance to earn $950,000 in performance bonuses based on games: $100,000 for 35 and each additional five through 55, and $150,000 each for 60, 65 and 70.

The demotion of Bryant was expected.

"In this case it was the right thing to do," Epstein said. "His performance really mattered, and he made a great first impression on Joe. It demonstrated clearly to everybody that he is really close to not just being in the big leagues but an important role on the team."

Chicago is seeking its first World Series title since 1908.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that you wouldn't like to have him in your lineup," Maddon said. "He's also 23. I'm looking forward to working with this guy for the next 15 years. He's a brilliant talent. I'm not going to sit here and say things that are disingenuous. This guy is good. He's going to be really good."

Baez, 22, was competing for the starting second-base job. He entered Monday's game against San Francisco hitting .173 with 20 strikeouts in 52 at-bats

"He is so close to getting it figured out in the batter's box and we feel like Triple-A is the right venue for him to continue making those adjustments and get locked in," Epstein said. "He does everything else so well on the baseball field, he is a winning baseball player. He just has to take that same mindset in the batter's box."

Baez was originally in the lineup against the Giants at Sloan Park on Monday but was replaced by Jonathan Herrera at second base and No. 9 in the lineup shortly before first pitch.

One of things Maddon has praised Baez for is how he has stayed focused defensively and on the base paths despite the struggles with the bat.

"Whatever happens at the plate happens," Baez said Monday morning before learning his fate. "I don't take whatever happens at the plate to my defense because I have to play good defense for my pitcher and my whole team."

Russell, 21, was acquired from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade on July 5. He hit .324 in 37 at-bats during spring training.

"I couldn't tell him what to work on," Maddon said. "He is that accomplished at that age. I asked to him keep doing what he is doing."

Epstein and Maddon both said there were heated debates on the decisions when it came to Baez and Bryant.

"In a healthy organization there should be different opinions expressed, bounce ideas off each other, talk about different aspects of the game and how you weigh different variables," Epstein said. "These players were new to Joe so he is seeing them for the first time and we couldn't have had a healthier debate about it and in the end we all agreed. I think I could probably be in this game for a long time and not send down three players that talented on the same day ever again. Those three are pretty good."

Tue, 31 Mar 2015 00:26:00 +0000

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