Patriots, Welker prep for showdown of standout WRs

Patriots, Welker prep for showdown of standout WRs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) For 10 years, it was billed as Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.

But now, with Manning halfway through his first season in Denver, Sunday's showdown between the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) and New England Patriots (6-3) is being hyped for rookie quarterback Andrew Luck's first game against a three-time Super Bowl MVP.

Perhaps the spotlight should be on receivers Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker, though, as two of the most dynamic and dangerous weapons in the league continue surging seasons.

The quiet, crafty and versatile veterans once again rank atop the NFL this year. Wayne leads all receivers with 69 receptions and is second to Detroit's Calvin Johnson with 931 yards. Welker, meanwhile, is tied for third with 66 receptions and is seventh with 810 yards.

The fact that they're both at the head of the class shouldn't come as a surprise, though. After all, they've been doing it for years.

Since Welker arrived in New England in 2007, he has the most receptions (620) and fourth-most yards (6,915) in the league, while Wayne, drafted by Indianapolis in 2001, trails only Atlanta's Roddy White in yards (7,165), and is tied with Chicago's Brandon Marshall for No. 2 in receptions (541) during that same span.

Wayne, who had seven straight 1,000-yard seasons between 2004-10, also has scored 39 touchdowns in that time frame to Welker's 33.

Not bad.

``I'm only nine years (in) right now. It's hard to keep on playing well. And he's at 12! And still playing really well,'' Welker said of Wayne. ``He's at the top of the league in everything and playing like the best receiver in the league right now. You definitely have an appreciation for it.''

Luck certainly does.

As if replacing the only four-time MVP in league history wasn't tough enough, imagine how difficult Luck's transition from college could have been without a dependable target to throw to.

``He doesn't talk much. He's not going to sit down and lecture the young guys, but the way he works, the way he prepares during the week, the way he takes care of his body, the way he mentally prepares, is a great example for us all in the locker room,'' Luck said. ``To boot, he's a great football player, so it's fun getting able to throw to him.''

With Manning sidelined for the entire season last year, the Colts went 2-14 - earning the right to select Luck with the top pick in the draft - and many expected Wayne to depart Indianapolis for greener pastures.

Wayne, 33, didn't flinch, though. He simply chose to remain with the only team he's ever played for.

``He's a Colt and he wanted to be a Colt bad. He's a legend here and he's going to go into the Hall of Fame,'' Colts interim coach Bruce Arians said. ``He knew what he was getting into and I think he's excited more than anybody with the change. He's a rookie in this offense, too. Because he sat out on the left side for 10 years and now he's all over the place, running routes that he's never run before.''

Patriots coach Bill Belichick wouldn't say whether Wayne's surprisingly successful season was solely attributed to the emergence of Luck, who has connected with Wayne for three touchdowns so far. To him, Wayne is the same lethal receiver he's always been.

``I don't really see Reggie Wayne much differently than I saw him in the past. He was good then, he's good now,'' Belichick said. ``There were some issues last year with their quarterbacking and passing game and all that but I didn't see any drop-off in Reggie Wayne as a football player.

``I don't know, maybe I missed it. He's always looked pretty good to me.''

Tasked with trying to slow Wayne and the Colts' aerial assault this weekend, New England safety Steve Gregory also hasn't noticed anything different about the standout receiver.

``Just being Reggie Wayne,'' he said. ``That guy's a consistently excellent wide receiver in the NFL. That's why he's around so long and that's why you've got to know where he is at all times.''

After missing two practices earlier in the week with an ankle injury, Welker returned to the field Friday but refused to place a percentage on his health.

``I don't know if anybody's 100 percent at this point in the season,'' he said. ``I don't know where I'm at. I'm just looking forward to getting better and trying to contribute on Sunday.''

Even if Manning's not on the other sideline anymore.

``They're a 6-3 team and playing really good football right now with a young group of guys,'' Welker said. ``Reggie Wayne's playing really well and their defense flies around pretty good.

``So, I'd say that's still a pretty big rivalry.''


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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Should Bradley Beal be an All-NBA selection?


Wizards Tipoff podcast: Should Bradley Beal be an All-NBA selection?

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, host Chase Hughes was joined by guest co-host Travis Thomas to break down Bradley Beal's All-NBA chances and John Wall's injury rehab.

They also discussed the crazy Eastern Conference playoff race, Trae Young's draft stock and essentials for a good snow day.

You can listen to the episode right here:

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Caps prospect watch: Signing season?


Caps prospect watch: Signing season?

The 2018 NCAA Hockey Tournament bracket has been announced and only one Capitals prospect, Brian Pinho, is still in the running.

Providence College was selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Regional and will play No. 3 Clarkson in the first round on Friday, March 23 on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of Notre Dame-Michigan Tech on Saturday with a chance to advance to the Frozen Four.

The college season is over for the rest of the Capitals' college prospects which begs the question, will any of them sign an entry-level deal with Washington?

In the spring when seasons end for colleges, junior leagues and European leagues, we see a flurry of signings across the NHL as teams sign their prospects and young free agents.

Among the Caps' college prospects, the most likely candidate to sign would be Shane Gersich. Gersich just wrapped up this third season at the University of North Dakota, finishing second on the team in goals (13) and tied for third in points (29). The Capitals will certainly make a push to sign him considering his talent and because if he returns to college for a fourth year, he stands to become a free agent on Aug. 15, 2019.

Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald reported Wednesday that North Dakota was still awaiting Gersich's decision on whether he planned to return to college.

Quinnipiac defenseman Chase Priskie is in a similar situation, but it he has decided to head back to school for another season.

“That wasn’t a season I’d want to leave on,” Priskie told the New Haven Register. “When I came here as a freshman I saw our senior class, Garteig, St. Denis, Soren Jonzzon, and they left such a legacy that guys still talk about them. Same for Sam Anas and Devon Toews. They were all such great players and some of the best people for our program. When I leave, I want to be talked about like they are.”


Other prospect notes:

  • For Pinho, now a senior at Providence, this marks an opportunity for him to finish his college career the same way he began, with a national championship. “I don’t think I realized at the time how hard it is just to get back to the tournament,” Pinho told the New Haven Register. “So that’s something we older guys have been telling the younger guys. You never know when you’re going to be back and you have to make the most of it when you’re there.” (You can read the full feature on Pinho here)
  • The end of the season may suddenly be near for goalie prospect Ilya Samsonov. Metallurg Magnitogorsk finds itself down 3-1 in its series with Ak Bars in the KHL playoffs meaning their season could be over as early as Friday. Of course, the big news to watch after that is whether or not Samsonov would come to North America. If he does, he would most likely go to Hershey to play for the Bears. With only 10 games remaining on Hershey's schedule, however, the sooner Samsonov's team is ousted from the playoffs, the better. At least from a Washington perspective.
  • All three of Washington's WHL prospects have reached the WHL playoffs. Moose Jaw (Dmitriy Zaitsev) finished with the best record in the league and will play Prince Albert in the first round. Swift Current (Beck Malenstyn) finished second in the East Division behind Moose Jaw and will play Regina. Everett (Garrett Pilon) won the U.S. Division and earned the top seed in the Western Conference. They will play Seattle in the first round.
  • Dmitriy Zaitsev remains out after taking an illegal hit last week. He did not play in either of Moose Jaw's final regular season games, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
  • Adam Carlson has found his groove in Kansas City. Playing for the Mavericks of the ECHL, he won each of his two starts this past week allowing only one goal on 43 shots. He was named the 2nd star of the game for both games.
  • Madison Bowey recorded an assist on Friday and two more for Hershey on Saturday for three over the weekend in his first week back with the Bears. Bowey has spent the majority of the season with the Caps, but the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek at the trade deadline meant there were just too many bodies up in Washington and not enough playing time to go around. As Bowey is waiver exempt, he became the odd-man out and was sent to the AHL. It would not be surprising to see him recalled by Washington when the NHL playoffs begin.
  • Defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler brought his goal total up to five for the season with two goals against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday. The Bears really wanted to emphasize his offensive game this season to see if Siegenthaler could be developed into a two-way player. His strength is definitely is on the defensive end of the ice, but he will be a more versatile player if he can also be a threat offensively as well. You can see the highlights of Siegenthaler's two-goal game here:

  • Forward Hampus Gustafsson was recalled to Hershey last week and did not wait long to make an impact. He scored his first career AHL goal on Friday. He also added an assist making that game his first career multi-point game as well.
  • Tyler Lewington was suspended two games by the AHL for a punch he delivered to Bridgeport's Scott Eansor in Friday's game.

Who are the Caps' top 10 prospects? Find out here in this week's updated rankings