Duke looks to end bowl drought vs. Cincinnati


Duke looks to end bowl drought vs. Cincinnati

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon sees Thursday night's Belk Bowl against Cincinnati as a perfect opportunity to help the Blue Devils' football team emerge from basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski's shadow.

This is Duke's first bowl game in 18 seasons, and the Blue Devils have their 6:30 p.m. time slot to themselves on a day with two other bowl games.

``Anybody who follows college football will be watching, so this is our chance in the national spotlight to take a big step forward with this program and let people know about us,'' said Vernon, the Atlantic Coast Conference's career leader in receptions and yards receiving.

Duke (6-6) hasn't won a bowl game since 1961.

``Is there a lot of pressure on us? Absolutely,'' said quarterback Sean Renfree. ``But good players like added pressure, and they thrive on it.''

Coach David Cutcliffe called this game the next step in trying to build a winning tradition and raise the level of expectations of the players, similar to what his friend Krzyzewski has done on the hardwood.

``This is national exposure for us,'' Cutcliffe said. ``The NFL is not playing. We're it. We're the game. So people across the country who maybe heard a little bit about Duke football, if they see us play as well as we can play, I think they will be a little shocked. We have a lot of speed and a lot of skill. So this can have a huge impact for us.''

And Cutcliffe said the Blue Devils are on the verge of something special.

``I don't plan on not making a bowl again - and that's the mentality I want every player to have. ... When I talked to coach Krzyzewski, there is no question what the expectations of a Duke basketball player are,'' Cutcliffe said. ``And that's the opportunity we have - to create really big expectations.''

Duke faces a Cincinnati team in transition after the departure earlier this month of coach Butch Jones and both coordinators.

Jones left to take the job at Tennessee, so defensive line coach Steve Stripling will serve as interim head coach Thursday night. Incoming coach Tommy Tuberville will also be on hand to watch but won't have any input on game day.

Jones went 23-14 at Cincinnati the last three years.

The Bearcats (9-3) finished tied for the best record in the Big East Conference but are left with only five full-time coaches from Jones' staff to work the game. They'll have new coordinators calling the shots on both sides of the ball.

Stripling led Central Michigan to a 44-41 win over Troy in the 2010 GMAC Bowl before joining Jones' staff. Stripling, who'll call the plays on defense, said his biggest concern had been keeping his team focused through adversity.

He said the play calls won't change.

``What we've tried to do from the beginning, because this is such a different situation for them, is try to find some normalcy,'' Stripling said. ``You try to keep them in their comfort zone and keep them focused.''

Despite the changes, the Bearcats come in as 7-point favorites. That's largely because they have a high-powered offense that'll be facing a Blue Devils defense that collapsed down the stretch.

After a rare win over rival North Carolina to go 6-2, the Blue Devils lost their final four games to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Miami. During that stretch, Duke's defense surrendered a whopping 51 points and 294.5 yards rushing per game.

That should play into Cincinnati's hands.

Led by senior tailback George Winn, the Bearcats enter the game ranked 31st in the country in rushing. After serving as a backup for most of his career at Cincinnati, Winn has emerged as a leader on offense, running for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Cutcliffe said Winn reminds him of Cadillac Williams, a guy who can put the team on his back and carry 25 to 30 times per game.

``I've had a chance to carry this offense and step up and take on a big role,'' Winn said. ``I think that has meant a lot to this team, and that's meant a lot to this team which wasn't given a chance, at least offensively, do anything special this year.''

Duke will need its offense to be in high gear.

Renfree completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,760 yards with 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. His favorite targets are Vernon and Jamison Crowder, who combined for 145 receptions and 15 touchdowns. Desmond Scott also caught 60 passes.

Cincinnati features a bend-but-don't-break defense.

``We kept teams off the scoreboard, which is big,'' Stripling said. ``I think that's going to be the key.''

Stripling laughed when asked if he foresees a high-scoring affair.

``Well, I'm a defensive guy, so I don't think that way,'' he said. ``Ultimately I think this game will be about which defense steps up to the challenge.''

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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News, notes and observations from the first week of NFL Free Agency

News, notes and observations from the first week of NFL Free Agency

A whirlwind week in the NFL, but that's come to be the norm when free agency opens. Actually, not even when free agency opens, rather the legal tampering period opening two days before the actual start of the new league year. 

A lot happened, and more to come, but let's try to make sense of it all. 

  • The worst keep secret ever finally got revealed when the Redskins held their press conference to announce Alex Smith as their new starting quarterback. Everybody knows about the trade, and losing Kendal Fuller, but this trade makes a ton of sense and Smith was a homerun at the presser. He doesn't care about image or perception, a refreshing angle from the passer, and seems quite prepared for his new role. Smith was great in Kansas City in 2017. If he can replicate that in 2018 for the Redskins, the move will be loudly applauded. 
  • We still haven't gotten total clarity on Smith's contract. My intel says three years are really guaranteed, so Smith will be on the payroll through 2020 at least. Doug Williams joked at the presser that Smith could maybe play until he's 40, and since he's 33 right now, that would be a long time from now. 


  • Smith was the headline, but the Redskins also held a press conference with new WR Paul Richardson. He was possibly more impressive than Smith, just because the young speedster was more of an unknown. Smith has talked at a ton of podiums and faced a ton of reporters. I don't know, but that might have been Richardson's first ever press conference with a room that had probably 100 or more people in it. Check out the video above. 
  • Richardson had a great line when asked about the dangers of big hits on passes over the middle: "They gotta catch me." He's right. He will get a lot of opportunities for the Redskins, and he should make things better for Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder. The Redskins wideouts did not get great separation in 2017, there are Pro Football Focus stats to back that up, and the offense got bogged down because of that. In 2018, with Richardson in place as a deep threat, defenses will need to react. 
  • The key to the Redskins offense truly succeeding in 2018: Jordan Reed. If he can stay healthy, the Washington air attack looks dangerous. 
  • Smart contract structure for the Redskins with Richardson. 
  • Zach Brown's contract is a 10/10 for the Redskins. A tackling machine that can actually improve from a strong 2017 season. Getting him back changed the entire tenor of Redskins free agency, as the team went from quietly sitting out the spending sprees (minus the Richardson move) to locking up their most important defensive player. 
  • Brown back, along with Mason Foster, gives the Redskins two strong inside linebackers. It's hard to remember now, but last September, that Redskins defense looked fierce. Injuries robbed the unit of a chance to completely gel and improve, but 2018 brings a new opportunity for that.
  • Offensively, the Redskins had to invest at wide receiver in free agency. The money for Allen Robinson got crazy and the team was smart to move forward with Richardson. He fits their desired profile: Young player coming off a rookie contract on a career upswing. 
  • The Redskins did not invest at running back, despite Jay Gruden and Doug Williams saying the team must improve at the position. Frankly, the Isaiah Crowell contract with the Jets was quite affordable, and he's a player some team sources had interest in. The Redskins do not have the luxury of taking a running back early in the draft, and I'd argue they shouldn't even look at RB in the second round. The Redskins should be focused up front on the offensive and defensive lines. A dream scenario: A player like Vita Vea or Da'Ron Payne at 13, and then Ohio State interior offensive lineman Billy Price at 44. Price would have been a first-round lock but for a pectoral injury at the Scouting Combine. Medicals say he should be fine for training camp. Washington has shown a proclivity to draft players that slip due to injury concerns (Kendall Fuller in 2016, Fabian Moreau in 2017) and Price could fit the same mold. 
  • The vacancy at left guard has not been addressed, and wasn't going to be addressed in free agency, or at least not in the early days where the big money gets paid out. Washington has more than $26 million invested this season in just three players on their offensive line (Trent Williams at $14M, Morgan Moses at $5M, Brandon Scherff at almost $7M) and the team knows Scherff will cost more money soon. The Jaguars just gave Andrew Norwell $30 million guaranteed; the guard market has arrived. The 'Skins will want to keep Scherff, and to do it, they need to keep some cash on hand. That means the new left guard will either be a budget free agent find, or come from the draft.
  • To that point, the team viewed Spencer Long expendable. He was well liked by players and coaches, but has never played a full 16-game season and missed half the year in 2017. Also, the emergence of Chase Roullier helped the team move forward without Long. 


  • A bit of a surprise to see Trent Murphy leave, but he got good money from the Bills. Washington liked Murphy, and wanted to keep him, but not at the price Buffalo paid. 
  • What happened to Ryan Grant is complete junk. The Ravens are a first-class organization, but that was a bush league move. The guy has never missed a game in four years and now he can't pass a physical?!? C'mon man. Hoping the best for Ryan and will be interested to see if his represenatives seek retribution from Baltimore. 
  • Bashaud Breeland sure likes to keep it interesting. Why sign a contract if you know you have a hurt foot and can't pass a physical? Why would the agent not disclose that? Maybe it was disclosed, but that situation just seems so weird. The Redskins were never bringing Breeland back, something I reported as far back as December, but now it seems Breeland's next NFL team will have to wait to see when his foot can pass a physical. Bree is a good and funny dude, hope he heals up. 
  • Two crazy things from one draft class: The 'Skins NAILED their 2014 draft haul. Without a first round pick, they got five solid contributors in Murphy, Moses, Long, Breeland and Grant. But now, after their rookie contracts have all expired, only Moses remains with the team. Bizarre. 

  • Credit where it's due: The 2014 Draft belonged to a certain Bruce Allen. That was the year after the Shanahan crew was fired and the year before Scot McCloughan was hired. Credit where it's due. 
  • I think a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie deal gets done. I think a Junior Galette deal might get done. 
  • Ndamukong Suh is still out there. Just saying. 
  • So is Bennie Logan. Just saying. 

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