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49ers pleased with Aldon Smith's progress at LB

49ers pleased with Aldon Smith's progress at LB

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The San Francisco 49ers figured they were in for a long term project when they selected Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith with the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft.

They're happy to have been proven wrong.

At the time of the draft the team viewed Smith as an outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme, despite the fact the 20-year-old played solely with his hand in the dirt in his two college seasons.

``He was never standing up at Missouri. And as a matter of fact, he played about half the time, or I would say at least 40 percent of the time, he was a defensive tackle for Missouri,'' Fangio said. ``So, he always had his hand down. So, you never were able to see that on film. You had to just project that.''

With Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks entrenched at the two outside linebacker spots last season, the team was able to bring Smith along slowly. In practice, he learned the nuances of playing in coverage and run support, but on game days he was sent on the field in passing situations to rush the quarterback as a defensive end.

The role was a good fit for Smith, who set the franchise rookie record with 14 sacks, but it was clear by season's end that Smith was too talented for such a minimal role. He was ready to be upgraded to an every-down linebacker, which can be a rocky transition.

``You just give him enough repetitions at it, both on the practice field and in the film room, to where he learns it and understands it,'' Fangio said. ``And then if he's good enough talent-wise to do it, he can do it. In this case he is. So, he's learned well both on the field and in the classroom, and he's talented enough to transfer it into a good result.''

Through four games as a true every-down linebacker this season, Smith is pleased with his progress. His 4.5 sacks account for more than half the team's total (8) and place him in a seventh-place tie in the NFL with Miami linebacker Cameron Wake. Smith admitted his play recognition and coverage skills need to improve, but feels he's on the right track there, too.

Perhaps more than anything, Smith is enjoying more time on the field.

``It's more fun,'' he said. ``Definitely just playing more is the biggest thing and then being able to get out there and contribute more to the team is big.''

Playing on a defense that features five guys who were named to the Pro Bowl last season, Smith was able to fly under the radar to a degree, especially early in the season.

Not anymore.

``I think (opposing teams are) doing more things like adding more people blocking to my side and making my life more difficult,'' said Smith, who plays on the right side of the defense behind All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith. ``They can't block everybody. If they're going to double somebody, someone else is going to be left open.''

Over the past two seasons, Aldon Smith ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks (18.5) behind Dallas' Demarcus Ware (24.5), Minnesota's Jared Allen (24) and Philadelphia's Jason Babin (20.5).

``We didn't have a doubt with Aldon,'' All-Pro linebacker Navorro Bowman said. ``He showed us what he could do with the pass and now he's playing out there on first and second down and doing a great job at it. I look forward to him continuing to get better and helping us as a defense.''

The 49ers rank third in the NFL in total defense (277.2 ypg) heading into Sunday's home game against Buffalo and fourth in scoring defense (16.2 ppg).

Preparation this week has been unique for both Smiths as Bills starting left tackle Cordy Glenn will miss the game with an ankle injury. With Glenn sidelined, they'll see a lot of matchups with his replacement, second-year pro Chris Hairston, who has started just seven games in his career and none this season.

``I can't look at that one person,'' Aldon Smith said. ``Instead of studying that person the whole week, I just have to study my rush and how I'm going to attack the quarterback.''

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

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Caps prospect watch: Boyd dedicates 4-goal performance to daughter after week in the hospital

It would have been understandable if Travis Boyd struggled this past week. Something more important was on his mind.

Boyd spent the week in the hospital with his daughter, Hayden, who had been experiencing pain in her throat. He spent the enitre week in the hospital, not leaving until Hershey's game against Laval.

Boyd turned this trial into something incredible as he scored four goals Friday in Hershey's 6-3 win.

Boyd spoke about the ordeal with Zach Fisch of the Bears Radio Network (transcription via RMNB).

“It actually started after the game last Sunday against Rochester," he said. "I went straight from the rink to Urgent Care and then from Urgent Care to the ER. Never left the hospital until Friday morning. We had a successful surgery on Thursday night. Basically just a bad infection in her throat that had to be surgically removed. They had to surgically go in and kind of remove the bacteria and drain out the fluids. Everything went well. She’s doing well.”

Following the game, Boyd dedicated his performance to Hayden.

A four-goal game at the AHL level would have been an incredible accomplishment on its own. The fact that it came during such a trying time for him makes this a truly inspirational story.

You can watch highlights of the game including all four of Boyd's goals here:

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S UPDATED CAPS’ PROSPECT RANKINGS HERE

Other prospect notes:

  • In the Bears' game Friday against Laval, Riley Barber dropped the gloves with Markus Eisenchmid.  Barber was given an extra minor and game misconduct for instigating the fight in the final five minutes of the game. That penalty carries with it an automatic one-game suspension which Barber served Saturday. Here's a look at the fight.

  • Liam O'Brien had a pair of two-goal games over the week, scoring twice against Laval Friday and then two more against Toronto on Monday. Of his four goals, three of them were empty netters.
  • As the Capitals prepare for their Stadium Series game in Annapolis on March 3, Annapolis mayor Gavin Buckley—a native of Perth, Australia—made a plea to see Nathan Walker recalled for the game.  “I’ll have to put a quick shout out to the one Australian that’s playing for the Caps now, Nathan Walker. If you could just bring him up for this game, that’d be great. Because an Australian being in a hockey game is like a Jamaican bobsled team. It doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Brian Pinho was honored Friday in Providence College's Senior Night. He has served as captain of the team this season and as an assistant captain in his junior year. He spoke with The Cowl on what being a leader on the team means to him. "I think being a leader of this team is a great honor, but also a huge responsibility. I try to keep everything fun at the rink, while also bringing some intensity and competing hard every day.” You can read the full story here.
  • Goalie Adam Carlson, who was on loan to the Indy Fuel of the ECHL, was reassigned to the Kansas City Mavericks also of the ECHL. He started two games for his new team and turned aside 42 of the 48 total shots he faced.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in his week's updated rankings.

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 61: Capitals at Panthers Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Panthers game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals (34-19-7) take on the Panthers (26-25-6) Tuesday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Florida.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Panthers game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Panthers
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Panthers game:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Michal Kempny - Brooks Orpik

Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME?

The Capitals-Panthers game, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

CAPITALS-PANTHERS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.