Capitals

Jaguars LB Daryl Smith eager for season debut

Jaguars LB Daryl Smith eager for season debut

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Daryl Smith has been a cornerstone of Jacksonville's defense for nearly a decade, playing all three linebacker spots and consistently making key plays all over the field.

He also missed just three games during his first eight years.

So sitting out the first five games this season with a groin injury has been frustrating for him and trying for his defensive teammates.

The Jaguars (1-4) rank 29th in total defense, a significant drop-off from 2011, but believe they can turn things around with Smith's expected return this week against the Oakland Raiders (1-5).

``It changes everything,'' fellow linebacker Russell Allen said. ``He's our best player on defense. Anything that you ask a linebacker to do, he's the best we have at it. He's our best blitzer. He's our best cover linebacker. He's stout against the run. He's smart. You name it, he brings it. We get better at everything with him on the field.

``We're excited to get him back.''

Smith injured his groin in training camp and missed the entire preseason. He returned to practice the week before the season opener, but suffered a setback. He hasn't practiced at full speed since.

``I know that I'm feeling pretty good,'' Smith said. ``It's been difficult. Once it happened, I had no control over it. I'm not going to waste my time worrying about stuff I have no control over. I'm just going to do what I can to get back.''

Smith might not be the only Jacksonville player to return against the Raiders.

Defensive ends George Selvie and John Chick are back at practice after sitting out the first five games because of knee injuries. Selvie was hurt in the preseason. Chick started the season on the physically unable to perform list following surgery in December.

Chick practiced in full pads Wednesday for the first time since his injury and is most likely a couple of weeks from a full return.

Selvie, meanwhile, is expected to make his season debut Sunday. He could provide a much-needed boost for a defense that has a league-low three sacks this season.

``The more the better,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ``The more healthy (guys) we have, the better, because we're able to do more things. We feel that could make a huge difference for us.''

Jacksonville's lack of pass rush has been the team's No. 1 issue this season.

Jeremy Mincey, who signed a four-year contract worth $20 million in March, has five quarterback pressures. Rookie Andre Branch has been mostly a nonfactor, too. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has been benched in favor of C.J. Mosley. And former first-round pick Tyson Alualu hasn't been the same since offseason knee surgery.

Depth has been part of the problem, with Mincey playing nearly every snap while Selvie and Austen Lane opened the season on the sideline.

Smith should help, too.

He set a franchise record with 15 tackles for loss in 2011. He also has 1,084 tackles, 21 1/2 sacks, 29 passes defended and nine forced fumbles.

``He's our best defensive player,'' Posluszny said. ``It's a significant difference when he's out there and when he's not. He's a guy that can change some things on the field, so to have him back really helps our defense across the board. You just know that you've got a guy that's completely reliable and someone you can always depend on to do the right things all the time.

``He doesn't need extra help. He's a true pro. Just his presence makes an enormous difference.''

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

The Redskins drafted for need, and this time, that is just fine

ASHBURN, Va. -- After months, and maybe years, of the Redskins front office explaining that the NFL Draft came down to taking the best player available, the organization might have veered from that strategy Thursday night.

The Redskins selected Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne with the No. 13 overall pick. It's a fine selection, but the team made it not necessarily because Payne was the best player available, but because he was the best player available at a position of desperate need. 

"There were quite a few guys that were worthy of that pick, quite frankly, but for what we were looking for and the fit, I think Da’Ron is perfect for us and what we were looking for," Washington head coach Jay Gruden said after the first round ended.

Payne should help right away on the Redskins defensive line, but plenty of fans want to know why the team didn't select Derwin James and Tremaine Edmunds at No. 13. Both freak athletes, James could have helped the Redskins' secondary while Edmunds could help at the linebacker spot and rushing the passer.

Asked specifically if Payne was on top of the board at No. 13 with Edmunds and James present, the coach wasn't quite crystal clear.

"Yeah, he was up there. There’s a lot of scenarios we tried to play through and guys were getting picked and we’re happy as heck to get Da’Ron. He’s one of our top guys."

For Gruden and the Redskins, this pick was about competing in the NFC East.

"You see what’s going on in our division with Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott and Philadelphia, the way they run the ball," the coach said. "Our [2017] ranking on defense wasn’t quite up to speed at 32nd."

The coach is right. 

The Redskins struggled mightily last season against the run, coming in dead last in rush defense. In turn, they struggled in the division, going 1-5. Dallas and Philadelphia already run the ball very well, and now by drafting Barkley second overall, the Giants could be a strong run team too. 

There is no question Payne will step in and help against the run, and that should happen immediately. Gruden even said the Redskins will use Payne at the nose tackle position, likely with Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis lined up next to him. 

The question on Payne is pass rushing ability, and he's eager to prove it's no question at all. 

"I’m going to get after the pass rush and just dominate the run every chance I get," the new Redskins said in a conference call with media. 

In thre years at Alabama, Payne logged three sacks. Read that again. It's not a misprint. 

For interior defensive line players, sacks aren't always a great measure of effectiveness. Getting good push up the middle disrupts the quarterbacks time in the pocket, and that often results in sacks off the edge. Payne should be able to help in that capacity.

"I think he's got great power, and a lot of times the sacks that don't show up on the stat board, he enabled other guys to get them because of the push of the pocket that forces the quarterback outside. I think Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Ryan Anderson will be very happy to have Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne in the middle pushing that pocket," Gruden said. "Stats don't always tell a story about pass rushers."

The Redskins made a smart, safe pick with Payne. He will help the team from Day One. 

The Redskins eschewed the chance for a riskier, but maybe more rewarding pick in Derwin James or Tremaine Edmunds. And that's ok.

If Payne boosts the run defense, like he should, he will be proven worth the No. 13 pick.

If Payne boosts the run defense, and proves capable as a pass rusher, then Redskins fans will forget all about James and Edmunds. 

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