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True freshmen make their mark in the ACC

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True freshmen make their mark in the ACC

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) Talent trumps experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference, where several true freshmen are gaining on-the-job training during their first year out of high school.

ACC coaches have opted to throw young players into the fray rather than stick them with a redshirt - and the results have been profound.

The phenomenon is especially prevalent at Maryland, where quarterback Perry Hills and wide receiver Stefon Diggs have made significant contributions to the team's radical turnaround in coach Randy Edsall's second season at the school.

Inserted into the starting lineup after veteran C.J. Brown tore a knee ligament in August, Hills has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,177 yards and eight touchdowns. Diggs, a top-tier recruit out of Good Counsel (Md.) High School, leads the Terps with 21 catches for 453 yards and three scores. He also took a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown in last week's 27-20 win over Virginia.

Edsall started 12 true freshmen in the opener against William & Mary, and seven are currently listed on the depth chart. That includes leading rusher Wes Brown, starting right tackle Mike Madaras and starting safety Anthony Nixon, who had a key interception against Virginia.

``My philosophy has always been you play the best guy regardless of them being a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior,'' Edsall said. ``When I coached in the NFL (as an assistant) with Jacksonville, I started rookies there. To me, the job of the coach is to determine who the best guys are and put those guys on the field.''

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher also prescribes to that theory. A kid with talent will play, even if he's 18 and without college football experience.

``We have no problem with that,'' Fisher said. ``Since I've been here I think we've played a large number of true freshmen, 13, 14 maybe 15 in a year. Maybe this year is down just a hair. We usually put them out there and get them going. A lot of that is based on need, too. If you're the best player, go at it. The great ones, you're not going to keep them five years anyway.''

FSU true freshman Ronald Darby has displayed big-play potential this season at cornerback. He's played in all seven games and has eight solo tackles, broken up four passes and forced a fumble.

Another freshman defensive back, P.J. Williams, is also getting playing time along with two highly recruited defensive linemen, Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards, Jr.

Miami is getting dividends from true freshman Duke Johnson, who leads the teams with 428 yards rushing and is tied for third with 18 catches. Another first-year player, 6-foot-6 offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, has also contributed.

Virginia Tech running back J.C. Coleman moved into the starting lineup last Saturday and rushed for 183 yards - most ever by a true freshman under head coach Frank Beamer. Coleman scored on runs of 45 yards and 86 yards to help the Hokies beat Duke 41-20.

``I thought he showed speed, showed power a couple times,'' Beamer said. ``It's a learning experience each and every week, and I think he'll get better.''

Across the state at Virginia, the Cavaliers also have gotten major contributions from defensive end Eli Harold. He has four tackles for a loss and 1 1/2 sacks.

Asked to assess the benefit of playing true freshmen, Cavaliers coach Mike London said, ``The energy of the young players can sustain you.''

At Clemson, linebacker-safety Travis Blanks has started four games as a true freshman. He's tied for third on the team with 32 tackles.

``I have a high expectancy out of myself and I expect to do things at a high level,'' Blanks said. ``I'm not surprised that I'm contributing to my team and helping out.''

Blanks won't say whether it would have helped him to redshirt.

``The team needs me at the position. I'm playing. I just look at it and take the opportunity and go with it,'' he said. ``I'm not going to sit there and say, `Oh, if I redshirted, I could've done this.'''

A year ago, true freshman Sammy Watkins shined for the Tigers as a receiver and kick returner.

``I think it's tough for any freshman to come in at the level he came in at and be able to produce at his level,'' Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. ``He kind of surprised everybody on the scene. After those first five, six, seven games, everybody knew who Sammy Watkins was, and he (had to) work that much harder to get open.''

Edsall has seen his freshman grow with each passing week.

``I do not see the big wide-eyed look in their faces like `Wow, what is going on?' I think they have started to settle in and know that they are good enough to compete at this level and win at this level,'' Edsall said. ``You see them starting to compete and believe in themselves and start to grasp everything that they need to grasp.''

A year ago, the Terrapins were 2-10. Now they're 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference, and much of the improvement can be attributed to an injection of youth.

``It's been extremely important,'' senior tight end Matt Furstenburg said. ``The freshmen have come in and stepped up. They've still got a lot to learn, but we've pulled out four games. Hopefully they keep it up in the second half.''

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AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., Hank Kurz in Virginia, and Associated Press writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown: Georgia RB Sony Michel

Redskins draft countdown

Sony Michel

Running back
Georgia

Sony Michel is a solid north-south runner who also can bounce outside and pick up yardage. He shared playing time with Nick Chubb last year and still ran for 1,277 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 touchdowns against SEC competition. Michel also showed his bona fides in the passing game, catching 64 career passes and showing that he can handle pass protection. 

Height: 5-11
Weight: 220
40-yard dash:4.54

Projected draft round:2

How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins have made no secret of their desire to draft an upgrade at running back. They would prefer one who can catch passes out of the backfield and gain yardage between the tackles. Sony Michel can do both as well as pop for yardage on the outside. There is a good chance that he will be on the board when the Redskins draft in the second round. Since they don’t have a third-round pick, this may be the last chance to get an upgrade in this draft. 

Film review: vs. Notre Dame, vs. Alabama

—The first thing to say here is that the Bulldogs had a quality run-blocking offensive line. Michel frequently had big holes to run through. For his part, Michel maximized his gains when he had a big opening, hitting it quickly and working north-south. 

—He also can pick up yards through just a small crease, again by hitting it with urgency and gaining momentum to drive for the final few yards. 

—Michel didn’t do a whole lot of pass protection in the plays I watched, but he was solid when he did. On one play against Notre Dame, he put a blitzing defensive back on the ground. Against Alabama, he got in the way of likely first-round pick Da’Ron Payne long enough to allow the quarterback to get off a deep pass. To be sure, he didn’t blow Payne away but his block was effective.

—Besides the O-line, Michel also got quality blocking from his receivers. Again, he took advantage, reading the blocks and maximizing the gain. 

—He also can get it done without much help. On third and 20 against the vaunted Alabama defense, he headed up the middle and quickly went outside when he saw no running room. He headed to the sideline with four Alabama defenders and no blockers in sight. Michel found another gear and accelerated down the sideline to convert the third and long.  

—He later converted a third and 10 on a draw play, quickly getting up to speed and zipping through traffic to move the sticks. 

Potential issues: Although he has decent speed, he’s not the home run threat you might want in a back taken in the second round. And Michel isn’t really a power back either, although he can fight for extra yards. 

Despite his limitations, there is chatter that Michel might be drafted early in the second round or perhaps even late in the first. It’s hard to separate the smoke and speculation from reality as we sit a week before the draft starts. But he’s a talented back and if Derrius Guice goes off the board earlier than most expect, a run on runners could include Michel. 

Bottom line: Saquon Barkley is the obvious top running back and he surely will be gone when the Redskins pick in the first round. After that, the Redskins have plenty of options. They like Guice but 13 may be too high for him and he is likely to be gone when their pick in the second is on the clock. Michel is one of a few possibilities there, a group that also would include Michel’s former teammate Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones of USC and others. Without a peek at the draft board in Ashburn, we will just have to wait and see. 

Redskins draft countdown

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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Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

Ty Lawson is playing a bigger role than anyone could have predicted for Wizards vs. Raptors

The biggest surprise of the Wizards-Raptors series through two games, at least from Washington's perspective, has to be the fact Ty Lawson has very quickly earned a prominent role in Scott Brooks' playoff rotation.

Lawson, 30, was signed the day after the regular season and after he played much of 2017-18 in China with the Shandong Golden Stars. He did not appear in one game with the Wizards or any other NBA team during the regular season, yet he was the first point guard off the bench in Game 2.

When John Wall picked up two quick fouls, it was Lawson who got the nod, not Tomas Satoransky. Lawson ended up playing 31 minutes, more than Satoransky and fellow backup point guard Tim Frazier have earned combined through two games.

Though the Wizards had three point guards on their bench behind Wall before Lawson even signed, he has apparently surpassed them all on the depth chart. Satoransky is the most surprising, given he played quite well during the regular season.

Satoransky averaged 7.2 points, 3.9 assists and shot a team-best 46.5 percent from three. He had the highest offensive rating (124) on the team.

Lawson, though, played quite well in Game 2. He put up 14 points, eight assists and three rebounds while shooting 4-for-5 from three.

Lawson outscored four of the Wizards' five starters. Not bad for his first game.

"He did everything I knew he was capable of doing," Brooks said. "I’ve seen him do it for many, many years. He’s tough, he’s a competitor. He competes and pushes the pace. He plays defense. I liked the spirit."

Lawson provided a noticeable spark. He is still quick and aggressive with the ball, not afraid to look for his own shot, and played physical defense against the Raptors. Lawson ended the night plus-8 in the box score in a game the Wizards lost by 11.

"It’s good to see him get into a game and be able to produce for us," guard Bradley Beal said.

Given the Wizards lost Game 2 and face an 0-2 deficit in their series, it is likely that Brooks continues to alter his rotation in the coming games. He could go back to Satoransky more often, knowing he had some solid games against Toronto in the regular season, including on March 2 when he had 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds.

Satoransky could see more time at shooting guard or small forward and could play alongside Lawson. That might be Satoransky's best bet because Lawson did nothing in Game 2 to squander the opportunity.

For a team whose effort has been questioned by their head coach, Lawson's energy and urgency was noteworthy. He brought the edge of a guy playing for his NBA career, knowing a good playoff series could earn him a contract next season. 

Clearly, the way Lawson played was refreshing for Brooks given how long he kept him out on the floor. He may have come out of nowhere, but it looks like Lawson is here to stay.

MORE ON THE WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

WIZARDS NEED BEAL TO BE MUCH BETTER TO WIN

BROOKS MAY CHANGE STARTING LINEUP FOR GAME 3

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