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Feleipe Franks takes the lead in Florida’s quarterback scramble

Frankly, he has a chance.

Feleipe Franks, the redshirt freshman quarterback for the University of Florida, established himself as the team’s front-runner in Friday night’s spring game. He led the Orange team (the starters) to a 31-0 victory over the Blues Friday night.

Franks hit eight of 14 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.

“He did all right,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “He’s ahead.”

Franks seemed much more poised than a year ago, when he threw three interceptions in the spring.

Franks, the 6-foot-6, 219-pound redshirt freshman from Crawfordville, Fla., didn’t waste any time showing off his arm strength and touch, lofting a 46-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond on the game’s first series to set up a touchdown and later fired a 16-yard scoring strike to junior wideout Antonio Callaway.

“Obviously, that was a big confidence booster, and a big role of playing quarterback is having confidence,” Franks said. “It’s been a tremendous difference this year [compared to last year].”

Kyle Trask, who worked with the starters in the second half, was six of 15 for 66 yards and an interception.

All the quarterbacks did a decent job,” McElwain said. “We kept it pretty vanilla. There is no sense in showing all we’re going to do when we open up in that first ball game.

“(Franks) played decent, yet Kyle took that drive down pretty good. I’m excited about Kadarius (Toney.) We know what we have there. He will be a guy that needs to touch the ball for us.

“I hope you saw what I saw. Those quarterbacks were very comfortable, you could see them setting their feet and the ball thrown from the pocket. I think we’re going to be all right.”

McElwain said the next thing is for the Gators to pick a starter at quarterback and develop him.

Lightning wins, waits, watches to see if playoffs are possible

The Tampa Bay Lightning has one game left, but the games they don’t control that will be the most nerve-wracking.

The Lightning has to watch as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. A win in either game clinches the playoffs for the Leafs and eliminates the Lightning.

The Lightning closes out his season Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. The team has to wait to see if that game matters.

The Bolts beat Montreal Friday night, 4-2, to come within one point of the Maple Leafs.

Yanni Gourde scored twice for the Bolts. Nikita Kucherov scored his 40th goal, and Alex Killorn added a goal. Andrie Vasilevskiy played for the third straight game and stopped 27 shots.

“What’s encouraging for us, these guys (rookies) that are new to this, they don’t seem to care,” Bolts’ coach Jon Cooper said. “It doesn’t matter what league they’re playing in. They’re not afraid of the moment.”

The Bolts have gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games. Gourde has scored in five of the last seven games.

“I think just hard work,” Lightning rookie Brayden Point said of his team’s late-season run. “You look at the last two minutes on that penalty kill, guys are selling out and blocking shots. I think that’s why we’re having success. we’re so excited, these are must wins for our team. We’ve got lots of energy. Obviously, it was a tight-checking game, but I think we worked really hard tonight.”

Point said his team would pay attention to Saturday’s game.

“I think we’ll all be watching them pretty close,” Point said. “But we’ve got to rest up and take care of business ourselves.”

Quarterback competition to highlight Gators’ spring football game

The defense has been rebuilt. Definitely, Gator fans are going to want to check it out.

Oh, and the play-makers are better at wide receiver. Those will be fun to see.

The offensive line is better. And the running game is solid. And …

Oh, never mind. You want to see the quarterbacks, don’t you?

If there is one overwhelming point of interest to this year’s Gators, who have their spring game tonight, it is the quarterbacks. With returner Luke Del Rio out, the competition has boiled down to two quarterbacks: Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. One or the other of them has a chance to be the quarterback the Gators have been looking for since Tim Tebow left.

“I will say I’m excited how they’re playing,” coach Jim McElwain says. “It’s been good, we’ve been able to stretch it really good.

“They’ve done a great job, and yet, I kind of expected them to.

Franks threw three interceptions in last year’s spring game. This year, with increased knowledge of the offense, Gator fans can expect a smoother quarterback. He has shortened his release and improved on his decision making.

Whether it is Franks or Trask – and the job is just beginning – the Gators hope to have more of an impact player at the position than in the last two seasons.

Kendrys Morales’ grand slam leads Blue Jays over Rays, Blake Snell

You can blame one swing of the bat.

Or, if you look closer, you can blame the walks that came before it.

Together, the two led to a four-run third inning that gave the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night. Blake Snell gave up a grand slam to Kendrys Morales in the third, but only after giving up two-out walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista.

“Walks,” Snell said, shaking his head. “that’s always been the thing that gets me so. So I just gotta attack, and I felt like I did really good attacking today. Just gotta do some things mentally to stay into it, but, like I said, things I’m aware of so I can get better at it.”

Manager Kevin Cash agreed.

“I thought Blake had really good stuff,” Cash said. “Any time you give up a grand slam in the third, it’s going to be a big blow. Maybe he drew some experiences from last year, knowing that at that point the game wasn’t over. We still had plenty of outs and innings to get, and he went and got them for us.”

The Rays struggled against Blue Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman, who was backed by three of Toronto’s four double plays.

For the second straight night, Souza was out at the plate for the Rays. This time, he jammed his leg but stayed in the game and had three hits. Snell struck out five and had five walks.

“I was really proud of him, actually,” Souza said. “One pitch changed the game. He got himself into jam. He could’ve collapsed after that and he went 6 2/3 and did a great job. That’s a good start to build off of. Obviously, the results weren’t there with the grand slam, but he can build off that result and keep going forward.”

The Rays and Blue Jays play again tonight at the Trop, with Matt Andriese pitching against Francisco Liriano.

Lightning defeats Toronto to remain alive in playoff scramble

Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning has a pulse.

The Lightning, clinging to hope in the NHL Eastern Conference wild-card chase, beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, 4-1.

Toronto leads the Bolts and New York Islanders by three points.

“It’s about just keeping it kind of in your hands,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and look at what the Leafs are doing or what the Islanders are doing. You just look at what you’re doing. And somebody told me we’re the only game on the docket tomorrow, so it’s in our hands. As soon as you start worrying about other stuff, it’ll just affect your mindset. It’s kind of what has got us to this point so far. I’ve said this before, ‘Who’s next? Well, Montreal’s next.’ That’s what we have to focus on.”

Brayden Point scored twice for the Bolts, his 15th and 16th of the year. Nikita Kuchorov scored his 39th of the year, and Michael Bournival scored. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots for Tampa Bay.

Cooper seems to have enjoyed so many callups from the AHL.

“They believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m sure people probably look at our lineup card tonight and try to figure out who some of these guys were, but you know what, they’re hockey players. They’ve got a goal and it’s one game at a time. But it’s just these unsung things that people aren’t going to sit there and say, ‘Well, we won this big draw.’ Well, Dumont won a big draw when we needed it. McKegg won a big draw when we needed it. Bournival scores a huge goal for us to make it a two-goal game, and you need, you just can’t rely on the Points and Palats and Kucherovs to do everything for you. We’re not anywhere without those guys, but you need secondary help and these guys, they’re there for us. And it’s just been a lot of fun to coach this team.”

Cooper said focus is key for his team.

“You can’t look too far ahead,” Cooper said. “I hope the guys don’t even know who we’re playing on Sunday. We’re playing Montreal. We’ve got to find a way to beat a really good Montreal team. We just saw them recently, and they, even though we took that game to overtime, they’ve got a good team and if we’re not ready to play the way we played tonight, you can’t exhale because we won this game. There’s a lot of road still to go. As I told the guys, ‘Enjoy this. Enjoy the plane ride. As soon as we land in Montreal, let’s turn the page and get ready for them.’”

The Lightning now travels to Montreal to play tonight.

Lightning’s Steven Stamkos might not play the rest of the year

The Tampa Bay Lightning had hoped that Steven Stamkos would make a triumphant return to the lineup that would power team team in a late-season push for the playoffs.

Evidently, neither will happen.

Stamkos said Thursday that it “wasn’t looking good” for a return to the ice before the regular season ends Sunday.

“It’s probably not looking that good,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times.  “It’s frustrating from an individual perspective where I want to be out there trying to help my team — especially at this (time of) year — but it just doesn’t feel right.”

“If it doesn’t feel right, you can’t expect to be able to go out there and do the things you can when you’re healthy,” Stamkos said. “Obviously with a significant injury, which it was, we want to make sure things heal so you don’t have to deal with it again. It’s tough. I want to be out there as much as anyone. I think I showed that last year coming back for Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference Final).”

Stamkos said when he feels right, he’ll be back, pointing out it was most likely a five-month recovery from the start (which would put it in mid-April). The biggest issue is that his knee flexion is “very limited.”

“It’s gotten better, we kind of hit a pleateau, it was frustrating,” Stamkos said. “There was no setback. Everything still progressed. But it wasn’t a minor procedure. This is pretty major, and there are a lot of working parts when it comes to the knee with having the tissue heal, scar tissue. Things that are kind of behind the scenes that have been tough. We’ve been working hard, just hasn’t been there yet.”

Stamkos had gotten his year off well. He scored nine goals in 17 games before his injury.

The Lightning, on the brink of elimination, plays the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Former Bucs’ running back Warrick Dunn gives away another home

Once again, Warrick Dunn has scored.

Dunn, the former Bucs’ running back who has devoted much of his life to charity, presented his 155th home Thursday morning to Keyona Thompson, the mother of six children – three of them with medical or mental disabilities. The home, in St. Petersburg, is a six-bedroom, two bath with wheelchair accommodations is the latest from a non-profit charity from Dunn. The home is furnished by Aaron’s.

“I can’t find the words to describe how I feel today,” said Thompson. “It’s an overwhelming feeling to be a first-time homeowner and to have the support of this community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!”

With 20 years of experience helping single-parent families achieve affordable homeownership,  Dunn understands the challenges many families face. Dunn remembers similar obstacles from his childhood as his mother worked to achieve homeownership. Her dream of homeownership was never achieved, however, after her murder while working as an off-duty police officer in Baton Rouge, Dunn parlayed the funds received upon her death into the first home for him and his five siblings.

Dunn made news in the fall when it was reported that Clemson running back Deshaun Watson had lived in a home donated by Dunn.

In her previous home, Thompson not only lacked space for her large family but like many who live on the edge of poverty, the apartment was in substandard condition due to a leaky roof. Despite her long record of successful employment, homeownership was out of reach without help.

“According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, one full-time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.,” said Dunn. “With the help of partners like Habitat, Publix and Aaron’s, Warrick Dunn Charities works to help single-parents avoid the pitfalls of not only securing homeownership but also understanding the systems around the process. Assistance with the down payment means a smaller mortgage, furnishing the home means less credit card debt, stocking the pantry means healthier food choices and having a safe and stable home base improves the lives of not just the family but the community as well. And because they are required to learn about personal finance and mortgages, they are educated about how it all works. All of us doing our part helps chip away at the significant problem of affordable housing.”

“We’re proud to continue our partnership with Warrick Dunn Charities’ Homes for the Holidays program, which is dedicated to providing single parents like Keyona with homes so they can have a safe and stable space to raise their families,” said John Robinson, CEO of Aaron’s, Inc. “Aaron’s has a longstanding tradition of giving back to communities across the country and we’re so pleased that these furnishings will be able to help make a difference in the Thompsons’ lives for years to come.”

In a 12-year NFL career, Dunn gained 10,967 yards.

Rays’ Alex Cobb makes triumphant return against New York Yankees

For Alex Cobb, it was only 957 days. It just felt longer.

Cobb, the pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays who struggled last September in his comeback, wowed Rays’ fans Wednesday night in a 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees. Cobb went 5 2/3 innings and allowed only one run and four hits in the victory.

“I thought it was a battle,” Cobb said. “I was definitely the best I’ve been on the mound since the Tommy John (surgery). It’s not to the point where I’d like to end up eventually, but it’s good enough to go out there and compete.”

Cobb went only 1-2 in five starts last September, and in his last two, he went a combined 4 2/3 innings and gave up 15 earned runs.

“It’s night and day,” Cobb said. “I at least have the ability and stuff to go out there and get creative. I’m not going to dominate a game with the stuff I have right now, but I can go out there and throw like I did tonight.”

The Rays got a leadoff home run from Corey Dickerson in the first. Jacoby Ellsbury homered in the second to tie things, but Tampa Bay scored three times in the second on a two-run single by Derek Norris, then shut out the Yankees the rest of the way.

For Dickerson, it was the first leadoff home run of his career (in his 32nd game of hitting leadoff). Dickerson and Logan Morrison each had two hits for the Rays.

Alex Colome recorded his second save of the season.

For the Rays, it was the first time since 2012 the team has won its opening series of the year. The Rays’ bullpen had an era of 1.08 in the series.

Tampa Bay now is home against Toronto in a four-game series.

Amazon picks off NFL Thursday Night from Twitter

Amazon will stream NFL Thursday Night games this season, replacing Twitter.

That means that technically, the games won’t be free to stream, but they will be carried by broadcast networks.

The games are available to members of Amazon Prime, which costs $99 per year. Prime, which comes with other perks like free videos, books and shipping, has an estimated 65 million members.

A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press on Wednesday that it’s a one-year deal worth close to $50 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not been announced publicly.

That would be about five times what Twitter paid for the right to stream the games last year.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Tampa Bay’s sputtering offenses usually haven’t delivered

Nothing.

We have plenty of it.

No goals. No touchdowns. Not many hits. We are a wasteland. We are the desert. We have end zones that have never been trod upon.

Take Tuesday, for instance. In its biggest game of the year, in a game to try to keep a pulse in the NHL wild card race, the Lightning was shut out. It was 4-0, and really, it wasn’t close. Meanwhile, back in Tampa Bay, the Rays were playing their second game of the year after an impressive opener. They were beaten 5-0.

Think about it. The Bucs scored as many as anyone, and they are in the middle of their off-season. As the old line goes, Tampa Bay scored as many times as a dead man.

Hasn’t it always been that way?

In the very first NFL season by the Bucs, it was the third game before Tampa Bay even scored. The fourth game before it scored a touchdown. The Bucs’ history is littered with Josh Freeman and Trent Dilfer and Vinny Testaverde. It drafted Bo Jackson, who wouldn’t even come. It spent a second round draft pick on wide receiver Dexter Jackson, who never caught a pass.

The Lightning has had some great scorers. Steven Stamkos scored 60 in one year, and Marty St. Louis won the Hart as the league MVP. But the Bolts, too, have had their gaps. They had Petr Klima and Gerard Gallant. There have been too many nights when the ice seemed uphill. From the first season, when the Lightning scored the fewest goals in the league, the power play has been powerless.

This team was supposed to change all of that with Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn. Still, there were too many nights when the chemistry felt wrong. The Lightning started wrong but finished strong. It wasn’t enough.

Then there are the Rays, who have always struggled to circle the bases. This was the home of the Hit Show (which didn’t) and Pat Burrell and Vinny Castilla and B.J. Upton. It figures. The most expensive item in the free agent market is a great hitter, and darned if the Rays have been able to develop their own. Last year, the Rays had the second-lowest batting average of their history (2012 was worse).

To tell you the truth, it gets lonely sometimes being a Tampa Bay sports fan.

Is there hope? Sure. Next season, the Bolts should have Stamkos and Kucherov to lead the way. The Rays seem to have some pop. And the Bucs have quarterback Jameis Winston and a nice receiving corps.

Always, there is hope.

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