Ravens

Vets still guiding Vikings 'D' but youth the fuel

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Vets still guiding Vikings 'D' but youth the fuel

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) There's plenty of experience left in Minnesota's defense, despite the rebuilding project that has turned over so much the roster in the last year.

If a mini-Mount Rushmore monument were made for this group, the faces of veterans Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield would certainly be featured. The older guys are still significant if not critical contributors.

Look closely at the first four games for the Vikings, though, and their youth is revealed -- in a valuable, age-defying way. Balance between the three position groups is important for good defense, as is a mix of old and young. The Vikings have enjoyed both.

``We just make plays when they need to be made. We haven't made that big mistake,'' Greenway said.

The tackling has been better, as has the pass coverage, and the defensive line has applied enough raw pressure that blitzes haven't been needed a lot. As solid as the holdovers have played, particularly Greenway and Winfield, the source of the improvement can be traced straight to the newbies.

Rookie Josh Robinson, who has the team's only interception, has provided an obvious upgrade at cornerback in the nickel package. Jasper Brinkley has taken over as the starting middle linebacker without much trouble. Another first-time starter, Letroy Guion, has defended the run well at nose tackle, recorded two sacks and even blocked a field goal.

Then there's utility lineman Everson Griffen, emerging as a secret pass rushing weapon in his third season, and rookie strong safety Harrison Smith, who has given the Vikings the hard-hitting, smart, ball-hawking player they haven't had in years at that position.

These two guys have been making as big of an impact as anyone.

After ending their experiment with Griffen as a linebacker in training camp, the Vikings moved the 6-foot-3, 275-pounder back to his home on the line. He gives Allen and Brian Robison an occasional break at the end spots and usually replaces Guion inside when passing situations call for the nickel group. Griffen leads the team with three sacks and is tied for second behind Allen with six quarterback hurries, quite the production for a part-time player.

``I like d-line. That's where I live. That's where I belong. It's doing me well,'' Griffen said. ``Whatever I can do to help this team win, that's the biggest thing.''

Defensive coordinator Alan Williams recalled watching video of last season on his first day on the job.

``There was a blur going across the screen and I was thinking, `Is that a linebacker? Is that a safety running across the field?' And I went back and forth a couple of times and got my program out and looked at it, and it was Everson Griffen. I looked at his height and weight and I was thinking, `Wow, we have something here,''' Williams said.

That's the same reaction Vikings coaches had when they first watched Smith in action during the practices leading up to the Senior Bowl in January. He hasn't disappointed, with 30 tackles, six passes defended and no glaring mistakes through his first four NFL games.

His best moment so far was probably last Sunday at Detroit, when he hit wide receiver Calvin Johnson so hard that the Lions star couldn't hang onto what would've been a touchdown catch late in the second quarter. The Lions had to settle for a field goal on that drive, and the Vikings won 20-13.

``We want people to have a second thought about us or not just think they're running free down our defense,'' Smith said.

Williams, paraphrasing his former boss in Indianapolis, then-coach Tony Dungy, called Smith ``the eraser'' for his ability to make up for other's errors in coverage or pursuit. Free safety Jamarca Sanford raved about his partner's instincts and intelligence.

``You get a lot of rookies, they might know their assignment but they don't know what other guys are doing,'' Sanford said. ``And he's one of the guys who really knows what everyone's doing on defense.''

That's legitimate leadership, regardless of age.

``I'm doing my job and working to get better every day. That's enough for me right now, and if that evolves into me leading or if people like how I play and kind of see that as leading then so be it,'' Smith said. ``But I'm not going to try to take over the room or anything.''

Notes: After sitting out the last two days because of a groin injury, Allen participated fully in Friday's practice. QB Christian Ponder (right knee) and WR Michael Jenkins (rib) did the same. Coach Leslie Frazier said all of them will be ``fine'' to play in Sunday's game against Tennessee. ... Marvin Mitchell, who has filled in for Erin Henderson at weak side LB, has a strained calf muscle and probably won't be available. Henderson will be back after missing the last two games with a concussion.

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Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

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USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of NFL Draft, Ravens add to wide receiver corps with Willie Snead

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Receiver Willie Snead has bid farewell to the Saints, which means New Orleans apparently won't match the contract the Baltimore Ravens offered the restricted free agent.

Eager to add a target for quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens on Friday offered Snead a two-year, $10.4 million contract. The Saints had five days to match the deal. Snead indicated Monday on Twitter that he's headed out of New Orleans.

Snead tweeted: "What I'm going to miss most is the men in the locker room & the coaches."

He added: "Even though I'm sad to go, I'm even more excited for the next chapter in my life. I can't wait to strap it on as a Baltimore Raven."

Hampered by a three-game suspension and a hamstring injury, Snead was limited to eight catches for 92 yards last year.

In 2015, he had 69 receptions for 984 yards. He caught 72 passes for 895 yards in 2016.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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