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49ers LB Aldon Smith chases defensive honors

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49ers LB Aldon Smith chases defensive honors

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Greedy or not, Aldon Smith wants all the defensive accolades he can get.

It's hard to argue with the statistics he's putting up so far for the San Francisco 49ers.

Smith likes it that way. After missing out on the NFL's award for top defensive rookie last season, he is determined to make up for it. And San Francisco's high-flying outside linebacker hopes to leave little to chance this time.

He is striving to be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and sacks leader in his second professional season.

Smith recorded 5 1/2 sacks for the NFC West-leading Niners (7-2-1) in Monday night's 32-7 rout of the Bears to give him a league-best 15 on the year - already topping the franchise-record and rookie-leading 14 he produced in 2011.

The honors are coming in already, with Smith's prime-time performance to shut down Bears backup Jason Campbell earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Next up: Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (5-5) on Sunday at the Superdome.

``It means a lot. It's humbling,'' Smith said of the recognition. ``I was just excited about how it went.''

Especially after official scorers reviewed film several minutes after the game ended and gave him one more half-sack. Denver's Von Miller, who beat out Smith for Defensive Rookie of the Year last season, is second with 13 sacks and Houston's J.J. Watt sits third with 11 1/2.

Smith has no qualms saying publicly how he would like to top them both, along with everybody else.

``Yeah, most definitely, because I compete hard,'' he said. ``I feel like everybody competes hard. There are so many people who are playing this game at an incredible level right now - Von, J.J., everybody, even the guys on our team - to be at the top of that list, that's cool.''

The 23-year-old Smith, a menacing physical presence at 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, is already drawing comparisons to some of the greats to play his position. Like late Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.

``He reminds me of Derrick Thomas,'' Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt said. ``Watching him, with his arm length and the way he can slither, his great get-off. I'm a great fan of Derrick. And that's who Aldon reminds me of. So I think that's one of the best compliments I can give him.''

The 49ers selected Smith seventh overall in the first round of the 2011 draft out of Missouri - and he became an instant impact player like many of the others chosen by general manager Trent Baalke the past two drafts.

Smith insists he hasn't changed much when it comes to his pass-rushing technique, or upgraded his skills.

``Really, I'm just in a lot more so you see it a lot more,'' he said. ``It's been there. I'm playing more.''

As dominant as he is for San Francisco's smothering defense, Smith has faced a handful of questionable off-field issues over the past year that raised doubts about his character.

He insists he has grown up, and is eager to prove that. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have stood by him.

In September just before the team's home opener, Smith was the passenger in a car accident in Santa Clara County in which the driver swerved to avoid hitting a deer. Smith sustained a cut beneath his right eyebrow.

He was stabbed at his home in June, then apologized at the start of training camp in late July by saying, ``letting everybody down was probably the saddest part.'' He also was charged in late January with driving under the influence in Miami Beach - just six days after San Francisco's turnaround season ended with a 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Now, Smith would like to repair all that starting with his play on the field. He even lines up on the left side to keep opposing offenses guessing.

``I'm really just playing the game,'' he said. ``The stats are what it is. I think the coaches just do a good job of getting me in positions where I can make plays. Wherever it's at, I try to make the best of the situation.''

After his gem Monday, Smith received one of three game balls given out on the defensive side for outstanding performers.

``One to Aldon, who was a shining star in the game,'' Harbaugh said. ``And I'm not just going to say the sacks, but the sacks were spectacular. And he used a lot of different moves to make those sacks - a bull rush, great athleticism, great balance. Used his arm one time as a leg to stay up. It was really awesome to see.''

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

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What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

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Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE