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Kaepernick showing pistol offense can work in NFL

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Kaepernick showing pistol offense can work in NFL

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Despite all those gaudy statistics and impressive physical skills, Colin Kaepernick faced plenty of questions coming out of Nevada about whether he was the product of a gimmicky college offense that would have no chance of working in the pros.

On the big stage of the NFL playoffs, Kaepernick is demonstrating just what he and that pistol offense are capable of against the toughest competition.

With scintillating runs in the option game and downfield passes with his powerful right arm, Kaepernick has the San Francisco 49ers back in the NFC championship game for a second straight year and has given more credibility to the offense designed by his college coach less than a decade ago.

``At first they said, that's just a college offense,'' said former Nevada coach Chris Ault, who invented the offense and used it in college with Kaepernick. ``Lo and behold, somebody came out and said you can do that in the NFL every so often. The NFL has been such a copycat league. The formation has expanded the landscape of football collegiately and pro wise. The pros see advantages of what you can do with these mobile quarterbacks in the pistol.''

Never had it been more effective than it was in San Francisco's 45-31 win last week against Green Bay. Kaepernick set a quarterback record with 181 yards rushing on 16 carries, scoring on a 20-yard scramble and 56-yard sprint off a zone read play. He also threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, exploiting whatever opening the Packers gave him.

``The one thing it does is it kind of makes you a little bit indecisive in what you want to do,'' Green Bay defensive back Charles Woodson said. ``You want to shoot in there but he may hold the ball and take it outside. If you go outside he might give it to the running back and take it up the middle. It's one of those things that makes you play flat-footed a little bit.''

Kaepernick is far from alone in running a style of offense that until only recently was dismissed by many in the NFL as unsuitable for the pro game. Cam Newton has successfully used the zone read in Carolina to post prolific numbers the past two seasons and rookies Robert Griffin III in Washington and Russell Wilson in Seattle used elements of the pistol and the read option game to get their teams to the playoffs.

Their success has helped remove the stigma that running quarterbacks can't succeed in the NFL.

``I think quarterbacks that have a talent for running the ball can be very effective,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. ``That's been long known in football, the National Football League as well. A quarterback that can get out of the pocket, run, pick up first downs, that's a threat that the defense has to account for. There are some quarterback-driven runs that have been added because our quarterbacks are very good at those, and Colin especially.''

Hall of Famer Steve Young calls the offense a bridge to help athletic quarterbacks with limited pocket experience transition from college to the pros, but said it is still essential to be able to beat defenses from the pocket.

That's where quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Griffin and Wilson have the advantage over Tim Tebow, who used the zone read to great success last season in Denver but is struggling to get playing time because of his erratic throwing.

Kaepernick prides himself on his ability to do it all, dismissing the question of whether he's a running or throwing quarterback.

``I don't want to be categorized,'' Kaepernick said.

Ault implemented the offense at Nevada in 2005, hoping to combine elements of the spread passing game from the shotgun with the power running game. The offense got its name - the pistol - because the quarterback lines up about 4 yards behind center as opposed to about 6 in the shotgun.

With the running back behind the quarterback instead of by his side in the shotgun, traditional running plays are easier to execute because the back is moving toward the line of scrimmage when he gets the ball rather than horizontally.

The offense began to evolve when Kaepernick took over in 2007. Late that season, Ault began mixing in some of the zone read plays where the quarterback puts the ball in the belly of the running back and then reads the defense to decide whether to go through with the handoff or keep the ball and run outside if the defensive end reacts to the running back.

Exposing the quarterbacks to hits running the ball is a big reason why NFL teams are hesitant to use the system so much, with Griffin's latest injury a prime example.

``I know you can't run the quarterback in the NFL as much as we do in college,'' Ault said. ``I agree with that. But I've seen quarterbacks take as many vicious hits dropping back 40 times a game as running the pistol.''

Soon, coaches from high school, college, Canada and the NFL made trips to Reno to learn more about the offense. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman was one of those in 2009 while he was still at Stanford. Roman used a few of the plays with Andrew Luck at Stanford but really started utilizing them once Kaepernick took over from Alex Smith halfway through this season.

The Niners have added new wrinkles with tight ends in the backfield, more play-action out of the pistol and different motions to deceive the defense.

``It's a nightmare, especially when you have a guy who can run 4.4, 4.3, a guy who can outrun defensive backs or linebackers,'' Niners safety Donte Whitner said. ``You really don't know where the football is going against this read-option stuff. You really don't know until you finally see it. Sometimes he can pull it back, drop back and throw it deep. You really have to respect all of the weapons and be disciplined. It's tough to do it for four quarters against a quarterback like that.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Need to Know: Five safe draft picks for the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, April 22, four days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

Five safe picks for the Redskins

Sometimes teams try to hit home runs with their draft picks. They may hit a few but they also will strike out a lot. Teams often are better off trying to hit solid singles and doubles. Here are five picks who would are unlikely to make many Pro Bowls but the Redskins would not regret the pick if they turned in the cards with their names on it. 

RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn—I’m starting off here with a player who would be a safe pick in the third round. Of course, the Redskins don’t have a third right now but if they do swing a trade and get one, Johnson would be a good pick. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, which is one reason why he might be available in the third. He is a grinder who will be an upgrade over Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley. 

DL Vita Vea, Washington—There is plenty of hand wringing over whether Vea is a three-down player or just a base defense nose tackle. But even if he can’t rush the passer very well his floor is a player who can go a long way towards helping the Redskins stop the run, a chronic weakness. This is why a lot of fans and media are urging the Redskins to not overthink this and take a player that will, at a minimum, bolster one of their weakest areas. 

OL Billy Price, Ohio State—He started 55 games for the Buckeyes, the most of any player in the storied history of the program. He did suffer the partial tear of a chest muscle in the combine but that will be fully healed by training camp. When he’s ready, he’s an explosive, smart, and powerful player. Just plug him in at left guard and the Redskins’ O-line is set with all home-grown talent. 

LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State—He doesn’t have the ceiling that the more heralded Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds have. However, he may have a higher floor. Smith is undersized, and Edmunds will be highly drafted based more on potential than on production. At 6-4, 256, Vander Esch has plenty of size, and he racked up 141 tackles last year on his way to defensive player of the year honors in the Mountain West. 

 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado—The All-Pac-12 selection has the size and athleticism that add up to a safe pick in the second round. He needs some work on technique, but he has enough natural athletic ability—he competed in the decathlon—to be a productive cornerback right out of the gate. One other plus that fans will appreciate is that his strength is press coverage, not off man. 

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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Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 30
—Training camp starts (7/26) 95
—Redskins @ Cardinals (9/9) 140

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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2018 NBA Playoffs Wizards-Raptors Game 4: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and the Washington Wizards battle Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night in Game 4 of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

GAME 4: TORONTO RAPTORS AT WASHINGTON WIZARDS

Series: Raptors lead 2-1
Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 6 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (pregame coverage begins at 5 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Time to get even

After a momentous Game 3 win, the Wizards have breathed some life back into their season. On Sunday, they can make this a brand new series.

With a win in Game 4 for the Wizards, they would tie the series and send it back to Toronto ensuring another home game in Washington. A loss would put them down 3-1, a deficit that has historically been hard to overcome.

Only 11 teams have accomplished the feat, most notably the Cavaliers in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors did the same that year in the conference finals. It has only been done three times since 2006. 

How will Raptors respond?

Game 3 took on a much different tone and style than the previous two and it played into the Wizards' hands. It was much more physical and Washington did a good job of instigating contact and using it to their advanage. After the game, several players highlighted Markieff Morris shoving OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka as a turning point.

Just because it worked in Game 3 doesn't mean it will carry over successfully in Game 4. Not only could the Raptors respond with their own dose of brutality, but the referees may try to nip anything of the sort in the bud early on.

It would not be surprising if Game 4 was officiated very tightly and if a message was sent in the first quarter to the players. After seeing how well it worked in Game 3, the Wizards will likely try to test the limits.

Playoff Beal

The Raptors will also try to adjust their defense following Bradley Beal's 28-point outburst in Game 3. He wasn't much of a factor in the first two games of the series, but broke out in Game 3 to lead the Wizards to a win.

The Wizards did a good job of getting Beal involved early. He was found for open looks from three in the first half and had two three-pointers in each of the first two quarters. Beal also took it upon himself to attack the rim and force the issue.

The Raptors held Beal back in the first two games by being rough with him and in Game 2 they got him in foul trouble. Surely he will be a big emphasis of their gameplan on Sunday.

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For more on the Wizards-Raptors series, check out or latest Wizards Tipoff podcast: