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Vickerson anchoring a solid Denver 'D'

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Vickerson anchoring a solid Denver 'D'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Take less money, gain more weight.

Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson heard each of those messages from the Denver Broncos in the offseason and complied with both.

The result has been one of the strongest seasons in his seven-year NFL career - and at a bargain to boot.

Playing at 330 pounds, about 40 pounds more than what he weighed in at last year, Vickerson has been occupying two offensive linemen at a time for much of the time, freeing up Denver's linebackers to make plays.

``I want to eat up blockers, let the backers run free and fast,'' Vickerson said. ``If I can take two - center-guard, guard-tackle, center-tackle - however it works, then that's good. Just take up two guys and let the linebackers eat.''

Speaking of eating - when Jack Del Rio took over as Denver's defensive coordinator in the offseason, he quickly saw that Vickerson couldn't be the big line clogger he was looking for if he played at 290 pounds, the way he did in 2011. Del Rio asked him to put some meat back on and return to the size he was when he was at his peak with the Titans in 2009 and the Broncos in 2010.

``Not just go out and eat a bunch of pizza and pack on a bunch of fat,'' Del Rio said. ``It was good weight, muscle weight that he added, so it's been good for us.''

Vickerson also agreed to essentially getting his salary cut in half, from about $2.2 million to $1.2 million, as the Broncos tried to clear some cap room and save money on a player who missed the final 11 games last season with an injured ankle. Denver also was making room for the free agent signing of Justin Bannan, who lines up beside Vickerson and plays much the same role.

And while neither the salary nor Vickerson's numbers - 32 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss - are astronomical, sometimes with interior defensive linemen, the numbers don't tell the whole story.

``He just makes things a lot easier on us,'' said linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the Broncos with 94 tackles. ``It's real good when you don't have to worry about linemen coming up to the next level. You've got a guy like Kevin up there who demands a double team. He's doing a great job demanding that. When the linebackers are flowing toward the ball, it almost always points back toward the defensive line.''

With Vickerson anchoring the line, the Broncos defense is ranked ninth against the run and fourth overall. On Sunday, it gets a good test against Tampa Bay and rookie running back Doug Martin. Denver had a setback last week when Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles went for 107 yards.

``Vickerson, he's a big anchor guy,'' said defensive end Elvis Dumervil. ``He reads screens and draws, he's a guy who can redirect. One thing we like to talk about is getting big guys to the ball. When big guys get to the ball, a lot of good things happen.''

But Vickerson doesn't ever want to get too big.

During the spring and summer of 2011, when the NFL lockout was on and team facilities were closed for offseason workouts, Vickerson redoubled his efforts and tried to lose the weight.

``I know how my body goes if I don't work out,'' he said. ``So, in the meantime, I might have worked out too much. I was just working and it was just falling off.''

Del Rio told him to put it back on. The coach said he didn't worry about Vickerson going overboard.

``The guys you worry about are the guys you're asking to get down, the guys who are too big,'' Del Rio said. ``This way, you're coming at it from a different angle.''

Notes: LB Von Miller was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month, the first Bronco to receive that honor since CB Champ Bailey in October 2006. ... Bailey will get yet another look at Bucs WR Vincent Jackson this week, a former Charger. ``I remember at the Pro Bowl last year, I told him to get out of our division. And he did, thank God. But here we go again,'' Bailey said. ... DE Robert Ayers missed practice again to be with his family after the sudden death of his dad last weekend. The funeral is Saturday and coach John Fox said he wasn't sure if Ayers would be back in time for Sunday's game. ... Fox on the city of Denver's preliminary efforts to land a Super Bowl in 2018, `19 or `20: ``We've got, if not the nicest, one of the nicest stadiums in the league. Denver's a great town. It's got great fans. There'd be great enthusiasm, I know, if we were fortunate to get it.'' ... Del Rio's son, Luke, is a quarterback for Valor Christian High, which is playing for the state championship Saturday. The defensive coordinator says he certainly talks football with his son, who is being recruited by Oklahoma State and Oregon State, but ``from my standpoint, as a dad, I'm more concerned with the character he shows, the way he competes every play - things like that are more important to me than what the end result is.''

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5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

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Associated Press

5 things to know about new Wizards player Ramon Sessions

The Washington Wizards signed point guard Ramon Sessions to a 10-day free agent contract on Thursday. Here are five things to know about the newest Wizards player...

**Sessions has played for Washington before. He was acquired by the Wizards at the trade deadline in 2015 and played out the 2014-15 season, appearing in 28 regular season games and 10 more in the playoffs. Sessions then spent the whole 2015-16 season with the team before leaving the following summer to sign a free agent deal with the Charlotte Hornets. In 1 1/2 seasons with the Wizards, Sessions averaged 9.2 points, 3.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds. He shot 46 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

**Sessions played one season for the Hornets and spent part of this year with the New York Knicks. The Knicks waived Sessions on Jan. 13. Over the past two seasons in Charlotte and New York, Sessions has averaged 5.7 points, 2.5 assists and 1.4 rebounds while shooting 37 percent.

**This is Sessions' 11th NBA season. In addition to the Wizards, Hornets and Knicks, he has spent time with the Bucks, Cavs, Lakers and Kings. He began his career in Milwaukee after getting selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.

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**Sessions went to the University of Nevada from 2004 through 2007 and left an impressive legacy as one of the best players in the program's history. The school's practice facility is, in fact, named after Sessions. It is called the 'Ramon Sessions Basketball Performance Center' and Sessions donated $1 million towards construction costs.

**Sessions overlapped with former Wizards player JaVale McGee at Nevada. Sessions was in his final season as a junior when McGee was a freshman. The Wolfpack were quite good that year. They peaked at No. 10 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

RELATED: 2018 NBA MOCK DRAFT HAS LOADED CLASS

2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

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USA Today Sports Images

2018 Bubble Watch: Teams are lining up on the edge of the bubble

The 2018 bubble watch has been relatively subdued with the plethora of upsets throughout the latter half of the college basketball season. At the same time, teams that are providing these upsets have slowly worked themselves from being a question mark at the bubble to now solidly in the tournament (ie. Virginia Tech).

Of the major conferences, the Big Ten is up in the air on how the end of February/ beginning of March will play out. Remember, to host their tournament in Madison Square Garden, the conference elected to move it a week earlier than the rest of the power leagues. Will it affect how many teams they have in the big dance? Right now they have four teams in but two more are hovering at the bubble.

READ MORE: BRACKETOLOGY ROUND-UP, RIGHT NOW SYRACUSE IS IN

Aside from the Big Ten, several other teams are striding the line. Many of which have done so all season long. 

Of the teams listed, they are battling for roughly 10 spots in the field of 68.

All rankings and records are as of Thursday, Feb. 22 at 12:00 pm

Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 32     BPI: 43      KenPom: 43    SOS: 12
Could Trae Young’s Oklahoma actually miss the NCAA Tournament? Yes. The Sooners have dropped six straight games and nine of their last 11. Yes, they have racked up the most high-quality wins in the country, but they are in a tailspin. They have beaten Kansas, TCU twice, Texas Tech, and Wichita State, but some of their losses are bad and they are piling up. Of their final three regular season games, two are against bubble teams that are desperate for a respectable win. If they lose out and then don’t make it past the first round of the Big 12 tournament, they are 16-15 (6-12).

St. Mary’s (CA) (25-4, 14-2 WCC)
RPI: 29     BPI: 20      KenPom: 22     SOS: 137
Early season losses to Georgia and Washington State are not as okay as they appeared back in non-conference play. Added to it was their surprising loss to San Francisco has now put the Gaels falling down the slide. Its hard to imagine though a 25-4 team not making the tournament.

Kansas State (20-8, 9-6 Big 12)
RPI: 55      BPI: 47     KenPom: 46     SOS: 73
The Kansas State Wildcats are your typical bubble team. They have beaten everyone in the Big 12 aside from the ranked teams.  They have some good wins but lack a high quality or ‘Quadrant 1’ victory. Their win over Texas on Feb. 21 give them a head-to-head over another team attempting to steal a bubble spot.

Providence (17-11, 8-7 Big East)
RPI: 37     BPI: 72      KenPom: 69     SOS: 20
Being in the Big East will always give a team a strong SOS, but the Providence Friars have lost to teams they should not have. While they have impressive wins over Xavier and Villanova at home, they have a DePaul loss at home that counters one of those wins. Their looming contest against Xavier has now developed into a must-win on Feb. 28.

NC State (19-9, 9-6 ACC)
RPI: 57     BPI: 51      KenPom: 50     SOS: 61
A team that has benefited from a strong conference has been the Wolfpack from NC State. Out of the ACC, NC State had a horrid schedule and even dropped games against Northern Iowa and UNC Greensboro.  However, they have made up for that with some of the most impressive wins in the ACC. They beat Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina on the road to climb back to the bubble watch.

Baylor (17-11, 7-8 Big 12)
RPI: 59     BPI: 37      KenPom: 36     SOS: 23
Beating Kansas and Texas Tech at home are really the only reasons the Baylor Bears are in consideration at the bubble. But, they are in the deepest conference in college basketball this season, which gives them a ton of decent wins that they can add to their resume. The Bears realistically have to win out to get into the dance.

St. Bonaventure (21-6, 11-4 A10)
RPI: 25     BPI:  58     KenPom: 68     SOS: 91
As a borderline bubble team, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies have followed that with a nine-game winning streak and a crucial victory over Rhode Island. As long as the Bonnies take care of their own business and make no worse than the semis in the A10 Tournament, they should be good. Guards Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley are overdue for a tournament berth.

READ ALSO: AP POLL SHAKES UP THE TOP 10

Syracuse (18-10, 7-8 ACC)
RPI: 46     BPI: 52      KenPom: 51     SOS: 22
A month and a half ago, the Syracuse Orange had no business being in the bubble conversation. Still, their four best wins are over Miami, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and then Buffalo. They have some work to do in their final three weeks.

Louisville (18-10, 8-7 ACC)
RPI: 52     BPI: 35      KenPom: 37     SOS: 29
The Louisville Cardinals are in a worse spot than Syracuse, they only have one would be ‘Quadrant 1’ win at Florida State from nearly two months ago. With all the drama surrounding this program through the entire 2017-18 season, you have to give it to David Padgett for keeping them in the race.

USC (20-9, 11-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 36     BPI: 50      KenPom: 52     SOS: 49
The Pac-12 could be in extreme trouble. If USC does not make the push into the NCAA Tournament, there will only be two teams from that conference dancing. With an interesting resume, there is not much that jumps off the Trojans record. Then again, there isn’t much that takes away from it either.

UCLA (19-8, 10-5 Pac-12)
RPI: 47     BPI: 60      KenPom: 54     SOS: 66
Their win over Arizona solidified their claim to the bubble. Win-out situation upcoming for the Bruins who have been hurt by a weak Pac-12.

Texas (16-12, 6-9 Big 12)
RPI: 54     BPI:  39     KenPom: 41     SOS: 16
The Longhorns have such a good schedule. They’ve played all of their games close, but few close games against high-quality teams have translated to wins.

Marquette (16-11, 7-8 Big East)
RPI: 58     BPI: 45      KenPom: 48     SOS: 18
The Golden Eagles were sitting pretty until a four-game losing streak and a loss to St. John’s took them out of the conference race. Not much room for error with Marquette as they move closer to Selection Sunday.

Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 Big Ten)
RPI: 60     BPI: 61      KenPom: 57     SOS: 101
A win against Michigan and a six-game winning streak in the Big Ten has the Cornhuskers alive despite a sub-.500 SOS. They still need a Big Ten tournament upset to get in.

Washington  (18-9, 8-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 48     BPI: 109   KenPom: 95     SOS: 37
The only reason the Washington Huskies are in this conversation is because they beat Arizona and Arizona State back-to-back.

Utah (17-9. 9-6 Pac-12)
RPI: 49     BPI: 70      KenPom: 60     SOS: 65
Another bubble team that hasn’t done much. They’ve won the games they should have and only have snagged an upset on Arizona State.

Other teams:

Florida (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
RPI: 64     BPI: 34      KenPom: 29     SOS: 39

Georgia (15-12, 6-9 SEC)
RPI: 70     BPI: 84      KenPom: 71     SOS: 48

LSU (16-11, 7-8 SEC)
RPI: 74     BPI: 64      KenPom: 63     SOS: 47

Temple (15-12, 7-8 AAC)
RPI: 44     BPI: 83      KenPom: 85     SOS: 9

 

Games to Watch This Week:

UCLA at Utah 2/22 – 9:00 pm (ESPN)

Baylor at TCU 2/24 – 12:00 pm (ESPN2)

LSU at Georgia 2/24 – 2:00 pm (ESPNU)

Louisville at Virginia Tech 2/24 pm – 1:00 pm (CBS)

Syracuse at Duke 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN)

Kansas State at Oklahoma 2/24 – 6:00 pm (ESPN2)

No. 12 Auburn vs. Florida 2/24 – 8:30 pm (SECN)

Penn State at Nebraska 2/25 – 5:15 pm (BTN)

NC State at Florida State 2/25 – 6:00 pm (ESPNU)

Oklahoma at Baylor 2/27 – 9:00 pm (ESPN2)

Davidson at St. Bonaventure 2/27 – 9:00 pm (CBSSN)

Providence at No. 4 Xavier 2/28 – 6:30 pm (FS1)