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Bucs retain defensive coordinator Mike Smith with extension

The Tampa Bay Bucs have made their first big off-season signing, and it isn’t a player.

The Bucs signed defensive coordinator Mike Smith to an extension shortly after Smith withdrew his name from consideration from the (now Los Angeles) Chargers.

Tampa Bay came on late in the season in their 6-2 second half. They had 29 takeaways, and they led the league in third-down defense.

The Bucs started the season slowly with new corners and new defensive ends. Smith, 57, interviewed for the Jaguars and Chargers head coaching jobs, bringing an impressive resume. He went 66-46 as head coach of the Falcons from 2008-14, reaching the playoffs four times including the NFC Championship Game in 2012.

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Lightning prepared to raise Marty St. Louis’ jersey to rafters

Three years ago, he went away angry.

Three years ago, a lot of Tampa Bay Lightning fans felt he had pulled out on the team.

But tonight, Marty St. Louis returns home for the team’s first jersey-retiring ceremony before the game against Columbus. Finally, the team and its star have reconciled.

“I don’t think even when you’re done playing and you’ve done some great things” St. Louis said, “it’s nothing you hope for. This is an add-on you never felt coming. I’m so flattered and honored. I feel good about what I’ve done. But there are people who want to recognize me for it is something I’ll remember forever.”

St. Louis, an afterthought when he entered the league, always played with a chip on his shoulder, as if he had something to prove. He was undersized as a player, but he showed he was big enough.

“You always feel you have something to prove,” St. Louis said. “It’s hard to make it to the NHL, and it’s hard to be an elite player. It’s even harder to stay there. Every year, kids are pushing you trying to get to there. I took pride in that. I think I was my biggest critic. I was trying to show people I could still do it. I think I was an impact player longer because of that mentality.”

St. Louis looks back on his days in Tampa fondly.

“My wife and I talk about it all the time,” St. Louis said. “We grew up here. We had just gotten married. All of our kids were raised here at a young age. We have a lot of friends of the family who are here. I matured here. It will always be home. It was home. Always be a special place.”

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Rays trade pitcher Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith, prospects

The Tampa Bay Rays, still trying to escape from the AL East cellar, have added some speed to their roster.

The Rays traded pitcher Drew Smiley for young outfielder Mallex  Smith and prospects Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. Smith will fit into a suddenly crowded outfield, which also will feature free agent Colby Rasmus, signed two days ago.

Smith stole 16 bases for the Atlanta Braves last year. He has 299 steals in the minor leagues.

Smith, 23, would help the Rays’ outfield makeup by added speed and defense. Rasmus, too, is considered a plus outfielder. He hit .238 last year.

You have to give up something to get something,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said on the team’s website. “But the type of deal we made, the return we got, we thought was something that made sense for us. We’re eager to see how it plays out from here.

“We are heavier with starting pitching than we are in some other areas. And this is an opportunity for us. One of the goals we set out to accomplish this winter was to put ourselves in position to be competitive in 2017, and we’re really doing everything we can to increase competition within our group, be more dynamic and have a greater mix and see how it shakes out.”

Smyly was available because of the Rays’ glut of starting pitchers and his salary. He was schedule to make $6.9 million this season through arbitration. Acquired from Detroit at the July 31, 2014 trade deadline in the David Price trade, Smyly was 15-15 with a 3.95 ERA in 49 starts with the Rays, including 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA last season.

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Examining the expectations for Florida football teams in 2017

If the early prognostications mean anything, then a level of success is going to surround the state of Florida in 2017.

Most of the too-soon predictions for next season have FSU contending for a playoff spot. They think USF could have its best season ever. They think Florida and Miami will both be solid. The predictions come despite FSU losing Dalvin Cook, despite Florida losing much of its defense, despite USF losing Marlon Mack and despite UM losing Brad Kaaya.

ESPN has FSU second in the nation to Alabama. CBS has the Seminoles third. Sporting News has FSU sixth, same as Pro Football Focus. SB Nation has FSU fourth.

USF is 10th by CBS. They’re 20th on ESPN, 25th on Sporting News, 15th by Pro Football Focus and 21st by SB Nation.

Florida is ranked 21st by ESPN, 14th by Sporting News, 21st by Pro Football Focus and 18th by SB Nation. They are unranked by CBS.

UM is 16th by ESPN, 24th by CBS, 21st by Sporting News, 17th by Pro Football Focus and 19th by SB Nation.

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Have we reached the point of ticket scalping for FSU basketball?

It is January, when the Florida State faithful like to talk about the impending National Signing Day for football or spring practice, which is nearly three months away. We have breaking news. People are actually talking about basketball in the state capital.

The FSU men’s basketball team has the attention of Seminole Nation. It took a top ten ranking (No. 9), a packed house and a spanking of seventh-ranked Duke, but the FSU bandwagon is now fully loaded.

Going into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Blue Devils, interest had piqued sufficiently to actually have students and fans eagerly anticipating a basketball game in January. The conversation among Seminoles’ sports fans may have gone something like “it’s great that 5-star running back Cam Akers committed to FSU, but I need two tickets to the Duke game on Tuesday.”

People go to movies, attend plays, and go to concerts because they like the entertainment. Basketball teams can find ways to win games, but do not necessarily look good doing it.

These guys are truly entertaining to watch. (So, too, is the FSU women’s team, also ranked in the top ten).

The best comparison of the FSU style is to the “40 minutes of hell” storm employed by then-Arkansas Razorbacks’ Coach Nolan Richardson. The constant pressure defense carried out by superb athletes led the Hogs to the 1994 NCAA Championship.

That is unquestionably how FSU opponents feel after each game. Just ask Duke.

Wave after wave of either quick or long (or both) athletes coming at you has an effect. Coach Leonard Hamilton uses 10, 11 or even 12 players during a game to facilitate the attacking style.

Opponents, meanwhile, may have only six or seven players they can count on. By the second half they begin to wear down while the Seminoles keep their foot on the accelerator.

The result is a 16-1 record, their best start ever. They would be 17-0, but let an 18-point lead slip away against Temple on November 24.

At that point of the season, Florida State was playing something like “10 minutes of heck.” Since buying into Hamilton’s pressure defense scheme, they have won 12 consecutive games, a school record.

Hamilton has recruited several quality players to Tallahassee during his tenure at FSU, but his teams have not been able to put everything together. They won the ACC Tournament in 2012, but were an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

They have not returned since.

Hamilton had even more success on the recruiting trail over the past two years. Dwayne Bacon was a highly-regarded player out of Lakeland, who had a sterling freshman season last year and has improved upon that.

Jonathan Isaac from Naples was a top-15 national high school player, who has already demonstrated his talent this year. Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker are other freshmen adding depth. Sophomores Terrance Mann and PJ Savoy add quickness and a shooting touch, respectively.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is dynamite when he’s focused while graduate student Michael Ojo has improved enough to make solid contributions at center. Plus, Ojo is so big (7’1”, 305 lbs.) he seemingly blots out the opposing basket. One could literally list a dozen players that have made contributions to this team.

FSU is in the middle of a brutal stretch of games where they play six consecutive ranked teams. With the win over Duke, they are now 3-0 in those games.

A big test looms on Saturday when they face No. 11 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They have already proven they can win in tough places with their 60-58 victory at eleventh-ranked Virginia. Hardly anyone wins there.

During FSU’s NCAA Tournament drought, Hamilton has heard several cries calling for his ouster. No one wants to fire Hamilton now.

After this six-game stretch concludes, the basketball world may know not only whether Florida State is a candidate for the tournament, but whether they are Final Four material. Or better?

Following the North Carolina game, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 14 Louisville come to the Tucker Civic Center.

Barring significant injuries, they will be in the conversation. But as coaches like to preach (correctly), it’s one game at a time.

Two months ago, which would have been the most unlikely to occur? Donald J. Trump elected President or basketball ticket scalping at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center?

Tough call.

 

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No. 9 FSU beats No. 7 Duke for record 12th straight win

Florida State celebrated its return to the top 10 with another impressive performance, wearing down Duke with its size and depth.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, helping the ninth-ranked Seminoles pull away from the No. 7 Blue Devils for an 88-72 win on Tuesday night.

Playing its first regular-season game as a top-10 team since 1993, Florida State rolled to its school-record 12th straight victory, breaking a mark that had stood since 1970. The Seminoles (16-1, 4-0) also improved to 4-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time.

“They definitely got frustrated in the second half because they don’t have as many guys they can sub as we do,” said Dwayne Bacon, who had 13 points. “We’re gonna wear teams down all year until a team that can match our depth will be able to play with us like we have.”

Florida State’s reserves outscored their counterparts 21-4, but the biggest difference was points in the paint. With Duke’s Amile Jefferson sidelined by a bone bruise in his right foot, the Seminoles enjoyed a 56-28 scoring advantage inside.

When Duke started putting more pressure on Bacon and Terance Mann (13 points) in the second half, it created more space for Rathan-Mayes, who was 7 for 13 from the floor for the game.

“It was me taking and reading what the defense gave me,” Rathan-Mayes said. “They were trying to take Bacon out of his sweet spot and I saw a few gaps where I was able to be aggressive and knock down a few jumpers.”

The Blue Devils took a 50-48 lead on a Luke Kennard jumper before the Seminoles grabbed control with a 16-4 run over a five-minute span. All but two of the points came in the paint.

“They are a good team to keep out of the paint. They drive and ball screen you to death,” Duke interim coach Jeff Capel said. “Obviously size they can throw it up there and hurt you on the glass. They throw guys on you and wear you out.”

Kennard led Duke (14-3, 2-2) with 23 points, and Jayson Tatum had 21.

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Clemson, Alabama overshadow Jaguars personnel moves

The College Football Playoff Championship Game was a victim of bad scheduling. When news emerged that the Jacksonville Jaguars had hired Doug Marrone as their Head Coach and Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice-President of Football Operations, who cared about a silly college football game?

While Deshaun Watson and company were upsetting Alabama on Monday night, didn’t much of the nation miss part of it because they were glued to the NFL Network?

The answer is, of course, an emphatic NO.

This little exercise in sarcasm is designed to question the Jaguars’ timing, not the wisdom, of this all-important announcement for their fans and community.

Not that these are anything but quality hires. That will be determined later, but the rollout does cause a bit of head scratching.

Why would you make such an announcement on a day football fans are focused on the college championship? Yes, things were beginning to leak out, as they always do, but that does not mean the team had to comment unless they wished to do so.

“We cannot confirm those rumors,” is a line that always works, because it is always true.

The hiring of Marrone, Coughlin and the extension of team general manager David Caldwell represent the biggest moves the team will make until draft day. Jags.com described them as “eye-opening changes.” You bet they are.

On the other hand, by the time Hunter Renfrow caught the championship-winning pass for Clemson, how many were unaware – even in Jacksonville – about these eye-openers before closing their eyes to sleep early Tuesday morning?

By participating in the story on Monday, the Jaguars have allowed others to control the narrative until Thursday’s official introductory press conference. Owner Shad Khan said the right things, including the introduction of the three, but those things could have been said on a day where competition for news coverage was far less intense.

“I have confidence that one day soon, we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Khan said in his statement. “The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

These moves are not likely to be fully embraced by what is left of Jaguar Nation. All three, in some aspects represent the past and the present. Only winning will win them over.

Those buying the tickets wanted change. Make the Jaguars Great Again!

Or at least 10-6!

On Thursday, the Jaguars will be the center of attention in their community. It is then the questions will come about the circumstances behind Marrone’s departure as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, and will Marrone be intimidated by Coughlin hovering over him?

Hopefully the leadership team will be asked for their plan to make the Jags winners again.

Hopefully things will go well on Thursday. In the end, success will first be measured in season ticket sales before the team ever takes the field.

Confidence in the team’s direction will go a long way to putting people in seats at EverBank Field. The drive to make Khan’s statement come true begins now.

Correction; It began on Monday night.

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FSU ranked eighth in final AP poll; three other state teams ranked

In the final Associated Press poll of the year, the debate anymore is not who is No. 1.

It’s how the rest of the field sorts out.

This year, for instance, there was never any doubt that Clemson and Alabama would be 1-2 in the polls. But Southern Cal climbed to No. 3 in the final poll.

The two national semifinal losers finished behind the Trojans. Washington was fourth and Ohio State sixth (behind Oklahoma).

Four of Florida’s teams made the top 20 in the poll. FSU finished No. 8 and Florida No. 14 in the polls. USF finished 19th, the first time ever the team has been ranked in the final poll. Miami was 20th.

LSU was 13th. The Tigers, Florida and USF all climbed six spots in the final poll.

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The road for Deshaun Watson started with help from Warrick Dunn

Think of it as Warrick Dunn helping with a few more memories.

Dunn has given away homes to single parents for years as part of the legacy of his mother, an off-duty policewoman who was slain while escorting a businesswoman to the bank to make a deposit when Dunn was only 11 years old. In all, Dunn has given away 152 homes.

Turns out, one of those who benefitted from Dunn’s generosity was Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who grew up in a home provided by Dunn. His new home was furnished, came with a television and a computer, plus cabinets full of food and a lawn mower.

“I felt grown having my own room,” Watson said. “Just having my own bed, not really being squished, not really worrying about someone sneaking up on me, it was a great moment,  a special moment.”

Dunn was pleased to learn Watson’s family has done well.

“We just try to help put people in safer environments and give kids an opportunity,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “You never know what impact you will have. You hope it’s a positive impact.”

Watson had his second straight championship game with more than 400 yards passing and led a last-second comeback.

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Rays add Colby Rasmus to their outfield, need bullpen help

The Tampa Bay Rays may have to tweak their starting rotation.

Obviously, the bullpen needs work.

As far as the regular lineup, however, the Rays have gotten better this off-season with the addition of Colby Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramos. Whether they have done enough remains to be seen, but it’s a start toward fixing last year’s 68-94 record, the only non-winning team in the AL East.

Rasmus has had four 20-home run seasons and is thought of as an excellent defender.

Part of the equation, of course, will be when, and how many games, Ramos can catch. Another part will be how much Rasmus can hit. Rasmus hit only .206 last year in an injury-plagued year.

Still, the lineup of Brad Miller at first, Logan Forsythe at second, Matt Duffy at short, Evan Longoria at third and Ramos behind the plate has some promise. Rasmus would slide into left, with Corey Dickerson at DH. Kevin Kiermaier is in center and Steven Souza in right.

After Alex Colome, the pen needs attention, as does the rotation, where only Jake Odorizzi had a winning record a year ago.

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