Sports briefs, Oct. 19, 2011

Posted Oct. 20, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.

Baker will return to defend Iditarod title

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Defending Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion John Baker says he was so focused on winning the race the first time, he hadn’t thought about what came next. But Baker says he’s now sat down with family, friends and sponsors. And the response was overwhelming. Baker says he’ll defend his title in 2012, and his dream is winning the Iditarod again. Baker won the race last year at age 48. He became the race’s first Alaska Native musher to win in 35 years. Baker received two standing ovations Wednesday when he gave the keynote address at the First Alaskans Institute’s Youth and Elders Conference in Anchorage.

Ryan clarifies comments about Chargers job

SAN DIEGO — Rex Ryan opened his mouth and got Chargers-Jets week off to a rousing start. During a conference call with San Diego reporters on Wednesday, Ryan mentioned that it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be an NFL head coach. He was then asked if he had reflected on what would have happened if he’d been hired in San Diego for his first NFL head coaching job back in 2007. “I think I would have had a couple of rings. I’m telling you, those teams were loaded. There’s no question about it,” Ryan said. “But things happen for a reason.” The Jets said Ryan later called Chargers counterpart Norv Turner to clarify his comments, explaining that he didn’t mean it as a slight. The Chargers (4-1) visit the Jets (3-3) on Sunday in a game that now has yet another subplot. It will be the Chargers’ first game against former teammates LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie.

Johnson hashes out call on oval ban with IndyCar

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Five-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said Wednesday he’s spoken to many IndyCar drivers about his belief that the series should not be racing on ovals, and all understood what he meant. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car accident Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. When asked the next day about the accident, Johnson said ovals were not safe for IndyCars and the series should abandon them. “I have a lot of friends that race in that series, and I’d just rather see them on street circuits and road courses. No more oval,” Johnson said Monday. His comment led to an angry backlash from fans who believed Johnson has no business weighing in on another series. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt also rebuked Johnson, with Foyt telling USA Today that Johnson was “pretty stupid to make a statement like that. “You could say the same about stock cars. I’ve driven both, and I’ve been hurt real bad in both,” Foyt told USA Today. Andretti called Johnson on Wednesday to discuss it, and Johnson clarified that he should have been specific about high-banked ovals. Las Vegas has progressive banking, and many IndyCar drivers expressed concern about racing on that kind of track. Johnson called Foyt after he spoke to Andretti and said he’s also had conversations with Dario Franchitti, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Oriol Servia, Paul Tracy, Marco Andretti and IndyCar chairman Randy Bernard about his comments. He said all understood what he meant, and all supported him.

Bradford misses practice, iffy this week

ST. LOUIS — Newly acquired Brandon Lloyd looked good in his first practice with the St. Louis Rams. Mark Clayton’s back, too. Now they just need someone to get them the ball. Quarterback Sam Bradford did not practice Wednesday while getting treatment for a high left ankle sprain, increasing the likelihood journeyman A.J. Feeley will get the call Sunday at Dallas. Bradford’s injury routinely sidelines players for a month, but coach Steve Spagnuolo had some hope he could play because although mobility would be compromised, the plant leg is not affected. But he still was in a walking boot. “I don’t want to think, to be honest with you,” Spagnuolo said after an indoor workout due to rainy, cold conditions. “I don’t venture to take any guesses on high ankle sprains. “I’ve seen them go all different ways, so I don’t know.” Bradford said the ankle was improved from earlier in the week, and thought the decision would be a matter of “pain tolerance.” Bradford didn’t think getting practice time was a must.

QB says he expects to play, but it’s not official

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, injured in last weekend’s game against Arizona State, says he expects to play Saturday against Colorado even though there has been no official word about his status. Thomas practiced Wednesday with the No. 9 Ducks, and afterward was asked if he could play. “Expect to,” he said. Oregon’s junior quarterback was hurt when an Arizona State player landed squarely on his legs in last weekend’s 41-27 victory over the Sun Devils. After the game, he was seen wearing a brace on his left leg. Ducks coach Chip Kelly does not discuss injuries as a policy. If Thomas doesn’t start against the Buffaloes (1-6, 0-3 Pac-12), the job will go to redshirt freshman Bryan Bennett. Thomas has thrown for 17 touchdowns and run for two more this season for the Ducks (5-1, 3-0). Last season, he threw for 30 touchdowns and ran for five while directing the speedy spread-option that helped Oregon reach the BCS championship game and finish 12-1. After Thomas was injured against the Sun Devils, Bennett stepped in and calmly led a drive that ended with De’Anthony Thomas’ 3-yard scoring run to put the Ducks in the lead. Bennett completed two of five passes for 22 yards, while running back Kenjon Barner was piling up yards on the ground.

Agent says Owens ready to play

Terrell Owens is ready to return to the NFL. The veteran wide receiver has been rehabilitating a left knee injury that required surgery. He is a free agent and agent Drew Rosenhaus says he will begin contacting teams immediately to let them know Owens is healthy. Rosenhaus said Owens could play Sunday. “We are open to any team at this point,” Rosenhaus said Wednesday. “There have been several teams showing interest thus far, but I won’t identify them at this time.” The 37-year-old Owens played 14 games for Cincinnati last year, making 72 receptions with nine touchdowns. He ranks third in career touchdown catches with 153 and second in yards receiving with 15,934. Owens also played for San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas and Buffalo. Among those teams short-handed at receiver are Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville and Miami.

Cutler brushes off profanity toward Martz

LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler wasn’t apologizing or expressing any regret for shouting a profanity directed at offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Instead, he brushed it off as nothing major. “Things happen. You guys were fighting in the hallways last week,” Cutler said Wednesday, referring to an argument between two reporters. “I’m not going to make a big deal of this. It’s not a big deal. We’re all in the same team in this building. We’re going to try and win football games.” A TV camera caught Cutler shaking his head late in the first half after taking a play call through his headset during Sunday’s 39-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Moments later, a microphone caught him apparently telling quarterbacks coach Shane Day to relay a message to Martz in the booth that was not exactly rated PG. Asked if he regretted it, Cutler responded, “No.” Martz said he knew nothing about the outburst or the clip, saying, “Run that by me again?” Told what happened, Martz laughed and said, “He’s directing it at who?” “Well, if it was at me, that’s probably the nicest thing that a player’s said to me during the game,” he said. “No, you’ve got to understand during the course of a game a lot of things get said. It’s a very strong, very competitive environment. That stuff, that’s not an issue, really. That’s part of the deal. But during games, a lot of things get said — trust me — by everybody. So that’s not an issue.” The Bears (3-3) are preparing for this weekend’s game in London against Tampa Bay (4-2). From Wire Reports

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