Notre Dame line prepares for physical Stanford

Notre Dame line prepares for physical Stanford

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's offensive linemen want to prove something against No. 17 Stanford after being pushed around by the Cardinal the past two seasons.

Stanford (4-1) held the Irish to a total of 101 yards rushing in those two meetings, winning both games by two touchdowns or more. The Fighting Irish (5-0) are ranked No. 7 now, off to their best start in a decade, and are eager to show times have changed.

Left tackle Zack Martin sees the game against the Cardinal as an opportunity.

``We've watched the tape against us the last two years and everyone they've played, and they've just beaten them up upfront,'' Martin said. ``It's an opportunity for us to go out and prove to everyone we're a tough, physical line that can be consistent and not get pushed around. That's what we're shooting for.''

The Irish have been inconsistent in the run game this season. They rushed for 293 yards against Navy in the season opener and for 376 yards against Miami on Saturday, their best total in 12 years. But the Midshipmen were undersized and the Hurricanes have one of the nation's worst rushing defenses.

The Irish managed just 52 yards rushing against Purdue, 122 against Michigan State and 94 against Michigan, numbers that aren't going to sway anyone into thinking the Irish are a dominant running team. But the Irish have come up with big runs when they've needed them.

Coach Brian Kelly said the Irish were making some fundamental mistakes along the line and tailback Cierre Wood wasn't being patient enough to let the play develop. He believes the Irish are correcting some of those problems and are ready to go against a Stanford squad that ranks sixth in the nation in rushing defense, giving up 77.2 yards a game and just 2.66 yards a carry.

``I think we're stronger physically across the board. We're a mature football team. We have veterans on defense. From an offensive line standpoint, we can handle ourselves better,'' Kelly said.

The Irish use three running backs: Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III. Riddick has the most carries, Wood is averaging the most yards a game (71), and Atkinson is averaging the most yards a carry (9.3). Three backs allow the Irish to keep a fresh player on the field, but it also makes it hard for a ball carrier to find a rhythm.

The Irish changed their blocking schemes this season, going from a line that blocked gaps to a team that blocks zones, meaning linemen are responsible for blocking an area, not a particular player.

``It's all about working together, working with the guy next to you,'' Martin said.

Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said the change in philosophy is evident on film.

``They are much more physical and downhill than a year ago. They come off the ball and want to hit people,'' he said.

The Irish added another dimension last week when they allowed quarterback Everett Golson to run the ball more often, as he carried six times for 51 yards. Kelly said he was hesitant to let Golson take a bigger role in the run game because he was worried about turnovers.

Kelly is now counting on Golson to be able to recognize when he should run.

``He doesn't have to run every down, but when we're trying to block effectively and we've got to leave a guy unblocked, he's got to be able to make the right reads and take it or give it out given what he sees,'' he said.

The Irish linemen say playing against Stanford should give them a good indication of how far they have advanced.

``They're a really intense team, really physical,'' left guard Chris Watt said. ``So being able to match that intensity is going to be really important in terms of our success out there on Saturday.''

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.