Capitals

Patriots offensive line finds success amid change

Patriots offensive line finds success amid change

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) From the onset of training camp, the New England Patriots offensive line has been a work in progress, a mix of experience and youth that led to a handful of questions.

There's still uncertainty surrounding who's playing which position each week, of course, but there's little doubt remaining about the level of protection provided to the quarterback.

After surrendering 12 sacks through the first five games, the Patriots' patchwork front five has allowed opposing defenses to sack Tom Brady just three times in the last six games, and only once in the past three.

``You try and do that as best as you can,'' guard Donald Thomas said. ``So, it's always a bonus when you can try to keep him as clean as possible. Nothing's ever going to be perfect. You try to do your job and that's what our job is.''

They've done it well. The Patriots (8-3), after all, are in first place in the AFC East and have won five in a row heading into their meeting with Dolphins (5-6) in Miami on Sunday.

But it wasn't always easy for this line, especially when you look back at the summer.

The first blow came when Brady's decade-long security blanket - three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light - retired. The second arrived in the form of six-time Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters failing to show up for training camp. Left guard Logan Mankins was coming off surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Longtime center Dan Koppen was released. Nothing was secure.

``Training camp was a little mixture of guys,'' Thomas said.

Then the season started.

Right guard Dan Connolly missed the game against Indianapolis two weeks ago. Mankins has been sidelined for four games so far, including the last three with hip and calf ailments. And guard Sebastian Vollmer also was inactive against the New York Jets last Thursday.

But the New England way is to make it work ... somehow. Move people around. Change things up. Do whatever's needed.

So, the Patriots did.

Thomas, in his fifth season, and second-year linemen Nick McDonald and Marcus Cannon all have stepped in at various times - and various places - to valiantly plug the voids. And so far, so good.

``You never know what's gonna happen during the course of a season,'' Thomas said. ``Fortunately, guys that were asked to step up were guys that were playing a lot during preseason and able to play with all the guys and we were all comfortable with each other.''

And of course, no one wants to let anyone else down.

``I think we take pride in it. I also think it's something that's necessary,'' said center Ryan Wendell, who has started every game this season. ``There's only so many guys that can dress for every game and be out there. So, guys have to be able to play more than one position and also guys have to be ready to fill in there because it's football and guys are going to be hurt.''

The line has a tough test Sunday. The Dolphins are tied for ninth in the league with 29 sacks, 9 1/2 recorded by linebacker Cameron Wake.

``Regardless of anything else that people say, I think they're pretty good,'' Thomas said. ``Probably one of the best fronts we'll face this year.''

Vollmer and Connolly returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's session, but Mankins sat out practice all week and was ruled out Friday for the game.

``It's what we prepare for,'' McDonald said. ``Everybody counts on each other and we're all pretty comfortable with each other.''

So, it should come as no surprise that the offense hasn't skipped a beat.

Leading the highest scoring attack in the league, Brady is enjoying one of his most explosive seasons since 2007 and has been sacked just 15 times, tied for the second-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts.

The running game has surprisingly flourished, too. Second-year back Stevan Ridley is seventh in the league in rushing, on pace for the most yards for a New England back since 2004.

``They've all done well. They're all young guys in the relatively early part of their careers that have come in here in a variety of circumstances,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Thomas, McDonald and Cannon. ``I think that the offseason program and their ability to go from last year to the offseason program to OTAs to training camp, that those players, all three of them, have improved significantly from where they were this time or even going back to September of 2011.''

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels credited longtime offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia for once again placing a formidable product on the field.

``I think when you talk about those players and the roles that they play on our team and the contributions that they've made, I don't think you can talk about them without mentioning Dante because he does an incredible job of preparing all of them as if they're all going to start and play for four quarters,'' McDaniels said. ``He makes sure that they have reps. He makes sure that they understand all the communication and I have an incredible appreciation and respect for him as their coach.''

The work ethic of the offensive line apparently mimics that of the coach.

``He's usually the first guy in the building,'' McDaniels said of Scarnecchia. ``I think the way he works, the way he approaches his job, it kind of demands respect because all he does and all he cares about - when he's here - is making sure his guys are prepared to do what we're asking them to do in the game plan, and he really goes to every length to make sure that happens.

``I think the way they see him work, they immediately appreciate what they have in him as a teacher.''

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

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Get to know newest Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny

On Monday, with the NHL trade deadline approaching, the Washington Capitals addressed a need for blue line depth by acquiring Michal Kempny from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional third-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

But before you begin to analyze how the move impacts the Capitals' outlook heading forward, lets take some time to get to know the newest member of the Caps.

Who is Michal Kempny?

Michal Kempny is a 27-year-old defenseman from the Czech Republic. He was born on Sept. 8, 1990 in Hodonin, a small town in southwestern Czech Republic near the border of Austria and Slovakia. Kempny began his hockey career playing for SHK Hodonin. Kempny knew very little english upon arriving to the NHL, but credited his girlfriend Showtime shows to helping him become more comfortable speaking the language. 

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What International Experience Does Michal Kempny Have?

Michal Kempny played professionally for HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga and Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League. Kempny was a standout player on the international stage, playing for the Czech Republic U18, U20 and Men's National teams.

MORE ON THE TRADE: WHERE DOES KEMPNY FIT IN THE CAPS ROSTER

When Did Michal Kempny Make His NHL Debut?

Michal Kempny was signed to a one-year contract as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Blackhawks in May, 2016 and made his NHL debut in October, 2016. Kempny scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30, 2016 against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. Kempny appeared in 50 games for the Blackhawks during the 2016-17 season, recording two goals and six assists. The Blackhawks re-signed Kempny to a one-year extension during the offseason. Kempny played in 31 games this season before being traded to the Capitals.

What Type of Hockey Player is Michal Kempny?

Kempny is a 6-0, 194-pound defenseman with a strong left-handed shot. Known for his play on the offensive end, Kempny was never able to gain the trust of Joel Quenneville on the defensive end. But Kempny has a good bit of offensive upside, thanks to his passing skills and strong shot, which is why the Blackhawks took a flier on him in the first place and why he was an ideal trade candidate for the Capitals. But again, Kempny's size is less than ideal for a top-tier blue-liner and while he doesn't shy away from contact, he is rarely much of a physical presence. 

What Does Michal Kempny's Contract Look Like?

Michael Kempny is set to become an unrestricted free agent the the end of the 2017-18 season and has a cap hit of just $900,000.

RELATED: TROTZ REACTS TO RACIAL COMMENTS MADE BY CHICAGO FANS

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

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Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

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