Ex-Cat Conner's improvement helping Jets' running game
Of all the nicknames floating around for former University of Kentucky standout John Conner, there's only one in Dustin Keller's estimation that truly suits the New York Jets' fullback. "I like 'Neckless,"' Keller said, "because he doesn't have a neck. It's head and shoulders. That's why he knows all those runs over most people would hurt their necks. He doesn't have one to hurt."
References to Conner's litany of funny aliases — like "The Terminator" and "Concrete Conner" — haven't been prevalent this season, attributable partly to some early-season inconsistencies. After showing flashes in his rookie campaign a season ago as veteran Tony Richardson's understudy, Conner's progress was stunted by the lockout, forcing him to step into the starter's role without those precious off-season reps the coaches thought he needed.
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However, Conner is slowly polishing the raw aspects of his game, and the second-year pro's subtle incremental improvement is one of the underlying reasons the Jets (8-5) have run for 398 yards during a three-game winning streak, a stretch they'll look to extend Sunday when they meet the Eagles (5-8) at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I don't know if there's any fullback playing better than him right now," Jets Coach Rex Ryan said. "I think he's humming at a high level right now. I really think he's been playing great lately. I think early in the year, there might have been some stretches where he wasn't quite as consistent as we would have liked."
Conner said it has been tough transitioning to a starting role.
"It kind of took awhile to get worked into it," he said. "Technically, I'm still a rookie and I didn't get to play as much last year. So I was still working out some of those role things, but I think after a few weeks, I was right there with the first team."
Besides becoming more comfortable moving around and getting better adept at recognizing fronts, Conner is making progress in pass protection with the assistance of linebackers Aaron Maybin and Jamaal Westerman, who give him 15 extra reps following practice. He's also constantly reminded he doesn't have to transform into "The Terminator" on every play.
"I told him before," running backs coach Anthony Lynn said, "that nickname is getting you in a lot of trouble because you want to 'Terminate.' You want to knock out everybody. There's a time and a place for that."
Keller said: "Last year, he comes in and just knocks the hell out of somebody. This year, a lot more of that stuff has to be under control. He's not just doing a thing here and a thing there. He's that full-time guy. You can't just go in here and be crazy all the time."
Not if he wants to have the type of career Lynn thinks he's in line for. "It's hard to find guys like John now," Lynn said. "He's like a throwback. John Conner has the skill set, that if he can continue to develop and work the way he's working, he has a chance to be the best guy in the business right now."
U.S. teen wins Dubai Ladies Masters
American teenager Lexi Thompson made history as the youngest winner on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tours. The 16-year-old Thompson shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to win the Dubai Ladies Masters, becoming the youngest professional winner on that side of the Atlantic.
Thompson pulled away from Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa to win by four strokes for her second professional victory. In September, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament at the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama.
"It feels amazing," Thompson said. "I'm just honored they invited me back and I'm just grateful to be here. I've been working on my game really hard and it has paid off."
Thompson chipped in for a birdie on No. 9 to take a one-shot lead over Pace and extended her lead with four birdies on the back nine for a 15-under 273 total.
■ Masters champion Charl Schwartzel shot a second straight 6-under 66 to move four strokes behind Lee Westwood at the Thailand Golf Championship in Bangkok. Westwood led by 11 strokes at the halfway stage after going bogey-free on the opening two days but a 1-over 73 in the third round allowed Schwartzel to cut the deficit.
"I knew I had to shoot a low score," Schwartzel said. "Lee didn't play particularly well. I've seen him play much better golf. ... I feel I still need to shoot a 64 or 65 on the last day to get a chance."
Westwood shot a career-low 60 in the first round and followed that with a 64. He had four bogeys on Saturday as his form dipped.
"After a 60 and 64, you have to be a bit realistic unfortunately," Westwood said. "A lot of people are going to think you're going to shoot 60, 62 and 64 every day but I'm afraid golf is not like that. Every day you have to reset your goals and your sights.
"A four-shot lead into the last round is a good position to be in."
■ Geoff Ogilvy took a two-stroke lead in the Australian Masters, shooting an 8-under 63 on his boyhood course at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne. Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, had a 13-under 200 total. He eagled the short par-4 opening hole — hitting a 3-iron to 5 feet — and had nine birdies and three bogeys. Ian Poulter, the leader after each of the first two rounds, was second after a 69.
Report: Rollins, Phillies agree to deal
Sources told The Associated Press that Jimmy Rollins has agreed to a 3-year, $33 million contract to stay with the Philadelphia Phillies. Rollins is a three-time All-Star shortstop and the 2007 NL MVP. He has spent his entire career with the Phillies after being selected in the second round of the 1996 amateur draft, and was a free agent for the first time.
High school soccer
Three from Ky. on national scholar team
Danville's Jake Winkler and St. Xavier's Danny Belza and Mitchell Metzger were named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's High School Scholar All-America Team.
The last word
The Green Bay Packers are scoring a touchdown on their opening possession at a rate almost nine times as high as in Aaron Rodgers' first season as their starting quarterback. Through 13 games, the Packers have scored seven touchdowns and a field goal for 52 points to lead the National Football League in first-drive production. Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said:
"We try not to ease into any games. We come out with our hair on fire."