49ers RB Gore loving big holes created by O-line

49ers RB Gore loving big holes created by O-line

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Frank Gore looks at his three 100-yard rushing performances, four touchdowns and overall stellar output in the season's first half and is quick to praise an unheralded offensive line that plays such an integral part in helping him do it.

Helping San Francisco's entire offense shine, too. These big boys block all over the field, every which way - even if it means taking on a speedy, more athletic defensive back.

``It's fun because they look at you like you're not supposed to be down there,'' right tackle Anthony Davis said Wednesday. ``We're a lot bigger than them.''

Gore appreciates every athletic block, every hustle play.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back insists he has never had such huge holes ahead of him to run, and that is the ultimate compliment to the 49ers' talented, much-improved O-line. Gore is now gearing up for a strong stretch the rest of the way with the NFC West-leading Niners (6-2), as long as these guys keep doing the dirty work ahead of him to keep things clicking toward another playoff berth.

Gore has run for 656 yards on 119 carries, averaging a career-best 5.5 yards - topping his 5.4 average in 2006.

``My O-linemen are doing a (heckuva) job of springing me and giving me big lanes that I've never seen before,'' Gore said. ``So I have to give it to them, and to the receivers blocking down field.''

While Gore has only played alongside two Pro Bowl linemen during his eight NFL seasons with San Francisco - Larry Allen in 2006 and left tackle Joe Staley last season - recognition hardly means much to this tight-knit unit that truly enjoys going to work together each day during the grind of a 16-game season.

Early last year, the line faced criticism for a slow start, then took more heat after quarterback Alex Smith was sacked nine times in a Thanksgiving night loss at Baltimore. Staley, Jonathan Goodwin and Co. have done their best to ignore - and sometimes even call out - the skeptics and move forward by sticking together to stay the course.

``There's a lot of talent in that room, on that line. The one thing I'll say about this line is it's a hard-working line, it's a line that's not satisfied with a little success,'' Goodwin said. ``I think everybody wants big success for themself and this team.''

And the Niners are getting more of a push from opposing defenses within the division this season, as every team has either upgraded or just plain improved on that side of the ball.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher realizes what a load his defense faces on Sunday in stopping Gore, slowing down Smith and his large cast of receivers - and doing all that against a physical, do-everything offensive line.

``I can't remember having to prepare for an offense that was so well-coached and so diversified in the run game and so talented, the different types of run concepts,'' Fisher said.

Smith connected with nine different wideouts in a 24-3 road rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football on Oct. 29, and like Gore the quarterback gives much of the credit to the line. Smith was also sacked four times that night and has been taken down 22 times this season for 128 lost yards - yet the 2005 No. 1 overall pick recently said he takes the blame and would rather be sacked than risk throwing an interception.

``They have a lot on their plate, week in and week out,'' Smith said. ``We ask them to do a lot, run and pass. Really, our balance starts with them, the ability in the run game and then protect in the pass game. They continue to execute, not just physically but mentally.''

That's just part of the job, said left guard Mike Iupati. He and Davis were both first-round draft picks in 2010 and became instant starters. Now, they're veterans.

``We're all on the same page. We want to win. That's the key to it,'' Iupati said. ``Just sticking together, camaraderie. We have each other's back, and also the communication factor.''

Whatever makes them work, other teams are taking notice. There's so much to deal with on San Francisco's offense.

``They have a lot invested in the O-line and do a very good job. It just makes that play action a nightmare when you try to stop the run,'' St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ``And when you have an O-line like that, they have some weird running plays. They'll run some running plays I don't think I've seen since the Tecmo Super Bowl, playing that video game.''


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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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