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Cowboys WR Dez Bryant could finally be arriving

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Cowboys WR Dez Bryant could finally be arriving

IRVING, Texas (AP) Great one game. Hard to find the next. A scene at the mall one year. Trouble with the law the next.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant is the riddle many had feared when character issues allowed the Cowboys to take one of the best players in the 2010 draft late in the first round.

Don't look now, but Bryant has multiple 100-yard receiving games for the first time as a pro, and is coming off a career-high 145 yards and a critical fourth-quarter touchdown against Cleveland. Barring injury or another twist to the story, he'll probably have his first 1,000-yard season.

Now is as good a time as any to ask whether Bryant is finally arriving in his third season, though not even the ultimate Cowboys optimist is ready to give a definitive answer.

``The risk here is that he's in the glaring spotlight of being on the field and off the field for the Cowboys,'' owner Jerry Jones said. ``So I'm reluctant that, we all are, to say that he's doing good. Dez is doing better.''

Forget the numbers for a moment. The day after a potential resolution was announced in a domestic dispute with his mother, Bryant all but invited reporters to his locker so he could declare himself ready to put the ``focus on football'' - a phrase he repeated so often it made him laugh. Laughter of the right sort has been in short supply around Bryant most of his young pro career.

Three days later, he was there when Tony Romo needed him late in the game, matching the steady and reliable Jason Witten with three catches in the fourth quarter, including a 28-yard score that put Dallas ahead, and adding two more in overtime in the 23-20 Dallas win. Romo ended up throwing his way 15 times, and Bryant had 12 catches.

Afterward, Bryant was already talking about trying to do it again in Thursday's Thanksgiving game against Washington.

``With a win, it feels good,'' Bryant said. ``Just got to put it behind me and get ready for Washington.''

The previous two games at Cowboys Stadium, Bryant cost Romo an interception each time by not doing what his quarterback thought he would. Not that this time.

``He ran good routes, he was at his right depth and you see the kind of player he can be when he plays football at the level that he can,'' Romo said. ``That's exciting to see his work ethic paying off.''

Few have questioned how hard Bryant works in practice, but there have always been questions about how much time he spent with the playbook. The issue of judgment was even larger, mostly because the Cowboys knew it could be.

He lost most of his final college season at Oklahoma State when the NCAA suspended him after he lied about having dinner with former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders. He was criticized for missing team meetings and failing to bring the right shoes to his pro timing day.

Draft day was rough, too, because his name kept falling after he was projected as a top 10 pick. Despair turned to delight when the kid from East Texas was taken by the Cowboys at No. 24.

His first season in Dallas was uneventful - on the field, too. He missed four games and finished with just 561 yards even though he had a 100-yard game.

Then the trouble started. He was kicked out of an upscale Dallas mall in early 2011 for wearing his pants too low, and a week later, lawsuits surfaced alleging that he had nearly $1 million in unpaid bills from jewelry and game tickets, mostly racked up before he signed a five-year contract with $8.3 million in guaranteed money.

Another spotty season on the field in 2011 was followed by the most serious incident, this one involving his arrest last summer. According to an affidavit filed by police in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Bryant struck his mother, Angela Bryant, in the face with a ball cap and grabbed her T-shirt.

Bryant's mom didn't want to press charges, and prosecutors announced a deal last week that could lead to the dismissal of a misdemeanor family violence charge if Bryant isn't arrested and regularly attends anger management counseling for the next year.

Witten isn't sure a resolution of the case is the reason Bryant seems ready to be the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver. He just knows it's looking that way, particularly after Bryant helped beat the Browns with so many catches on shorter routes, not usually his strength.

``That's the other part of being a receiver,'' Witten said. ``He understands, `Hey, I'm a go-to guy.' And you know that he wants to be really, really good.''

Bryant is still having some of those ill-advised moments, like a play against Cleveland where he easily could have run for a first down and inexplicably stepped out of bounds a yard short when defenders closed in. Afterward, he acknowledged he wasn't sure where the first-down marker was, although he was also trying to follow the advice of coaches not to always take on tacklers.

Three weeks ago, he followed his second 100-yard game of the season with one catch in a big Sunday night game at Atlanta.

``I'm hoping he disappears,'' Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said with a laugh. ``No, he's a tremendous athlete. I think everybody knows that.''

The question is whether he can be that go-to guy - all the time.

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/lschuylerd

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The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there. 

One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00. 

So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13? 

The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback. 

The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense. 

Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position. 

But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year. 

Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.

The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.

Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.

So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.

Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.

But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.

Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.

Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.

Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.

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