Bengals' Hall says recovery from injury ahead of schedule
Bengals cornerback Leon Hall will be limited to working on the side during the Bengals' three-day mini-camp that opened on Tuesday at Paul Brown Stadium. Hall tore the left Achilles tendon on Nov. 13, leaving questions about whether he'd be ready for the start of the 2012 season.
But Hall has been running forward and backward without problem, regaining his leg strength and flexibility faster than expected. Instead of setting the opening game as the target for his return, Hall said he thinks he can be ready to take the first snap in practice when training camp opens on July 27.
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"Considering how I feel in mid-June, I feel like I will be OK," Hall said, after emerging from the trainer's room.
If the 27-year-old cornerback is fully recovered, the Bengals will be in much better shape to make another run at the playoffs. The secondary struggled after Hall got hurt. Even though Cincinnati made the playoffs as a wild-card team, the Bengals lost a first-round game at Houston to finish 9-8.
The Bengals took cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round, hoping he can team with Hall at cornerback at some point this season. Hall's progress could allow them to become a tandem at the start of training camp.
"Leon has done very well," Coach Marvin Lewis said. "He has exceeded expectations by far. He's done well. He's excited with where he is. What he hasn't had to do is the day-to-day stuff — how many snaps, how many plays.
"He's been impressive, but we expected that from Leon. That doesn't surprise anybody."
■ How has Peyton Manning's arrival affected his teammates in Denver? Veteran running back Willis McGahee said: "I'm not going to sit here and lie to you, I really haven't been going to (organized team activities), so it's very much different for me. I've been here and participating a lot more than I have in my whole career."
Busch keeps ride with Phoenix Racing
Kurt Busch will return to Phoenix Racing when his one-week NASCAR suspension ends Wednesday. Busch met Tuesday with team owner James Finch, and the duo agreed to move forward to this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway.
"At the end of the day, we are racers so we're going racing together with Kurt and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet," Finch said in a statement. "We know adjustments have to be made but how we fix that is between Kurt and myself. We're going to go to the track, work hard, race hard and work on trying to attract a sponsor — and we're going to do that together."
Busch's status with Finch seemed shaky following his one-week suspension for verbally abusing a media member. Finch indicated in several interviews his patience was being tested by the 2004 NASCAR champion. Busch landed with Phoenix Racing in December after parting ways from Penske Racing because of a series of incidents mainly related to Busch's temper. In signing to drive for the underfunded Finch, Busch said he hoped to "put the fun back in racing" this season while trying to rebuild his image.
Nates Mineshaft a go for Stephen Foster
Trainer Austin Smith confirmed Tuesday that Nates Mineshaft, a 7¼-length winner of the Grade III Lone Star Park Handicap in his most recent start, will run in in Saturday night's Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. "It's a Grade I and he doesn't have to ship anywhere," Smith said. "It's going to be a tough race, but you have to find out what you've got."
■ Alternation, the top-ranked horse in the latest NTRA poll, completed his preparations for the Stephen Foster with an easy 5-furlong breeze in 1:05.40 on the fast main track. Even though the work was the slowest of 12 at the distance, trainer Donnie Von Hemel was pleased with the performance. "He started out slow, but then finished very nicely and galloped out very well," Von Hemel said. "He came back to the barn full of himself."
Lexington champ could get in U.S. Open
Lexington's Fifth Third Bank Tennis Championships will be part of a four-tournament series this summer that will put a player into the main draw of the 2012 U.S. Open. The American player with the highest total cumulative singles ATP ranking points from the main draws in Lexington (starting July 23), Binghamton, N.Y. (July 16), Vancouver, British Columbia (July 30), and Aptos, Calif. (Aug. 6) will win the "wild-card playoff" and the coveted spot in the U.S. Open.
■ University of Kentucky men's tennis star Eric Quigley was one of nine one male and seven female players named to the United States Tennis Association Summer Collegiate Team, a training program for the top American collegiate tennis players. It'll be the third year that Quigley has been part of the program.
Kings coach already thinking ahead
The Stanley Cup barely had the Los Angeles Kings' fingerprints on it before Darryl Sutter suggested they should start preparing to win it again. "The first thing you think about as a coach, these guys are all young enough, they've got to try it again," the coach said Monday night, mere moments after raising the Cup for the first time himself.
That's just how a pragmatic farmer from Alberta thinks about everything, and Sutter didn't allow his mental preparations for a sequel to stop him from celebrating this irreplaceable moment with his players. The Kings partied until well after midnight at a restaurant overlooking the Staples Center ice, where Los Angeles completed its 16-4 rampage through the post-season to the franchise's first NHL title.
After nearly 45 years without a Cup, after 4½ decades with one division title and one conference crown to show for their existence, and after eight straight years from 2002-10 without making the playoffs, Los Angeles and its Kings had earned every minute of it.
The Kings weren't thinking much about how they became the first eighth seed to win a title, or how they won 10 straight road games this spring, or how they made the second-fastest run in modern NHL history to the Stanley Cup. They already knew.
"Guys have to make a decision to work," said Jonathan Quick, the record-setting goalie who carried the Kings through long stretches of the regular season. "I think we did that. You can't say enough about this group and how hard they worked."
Greece can't overcome 2-0 deficit
Another bad start for Greece at Euro 2012, and this time there was no way back. Four days after trailing to a 17th minute goal against Poland and then battling back to draw 1-1, the Greeks fell behind 2-0 after just six minutes against the Czech Republic. This time, it ended with a 2-1 defeat that brought the 2004 champions to the brink of elimination from the tournament.
■ Alan Dzagoev scored his third goal of the European Championship and Jakub Blaszczykowski equalized in the second half as Russia and host Poland drew 1-1. The match was marred before kickoff by fighting between hooligans from both countries, leaving several people injured as thousands of Russian fans marched to celebrate the Russia Day national holiday.
The last word
Bubba Watson is a Masters champion. Yet the big hitter with an imaginative swing is wary of what awaits at this weekend's U.S. Open. So much so that he's warning fans to beware of wild drives this week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco:
"Hopefully I don't hit too many people. Hopefully they forgive me if I do."