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2 stout defenses set to meet in SEC championship

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2 stout defenses set to meet in SEC championship

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Alabama lost a bunch of stars to the NFL, yet it's hard to tell much difference. The Crimson Tide still has the nation's top-ranked defense.

There was never any shortage of talent at Georgia, where all the best defensive players decided to remain in college for another year. Even so, the Bulldogs didn't start playing up to their potential until they were called out by one of their own.

An outburst by safety Shawn Williams, who accused his teammates of playing ``soft,'' sparked a dramatic turnaround at Georgia. It's a big reason the third-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) will face No. 2 Alabama (11-1) for the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday, with the winner claiming a spot in the national title game.

One thing seems certain: Both offenses will have trouble moving the ball.

``When you play with a team that has a great defense or had a great defense before you got here,'' said Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, ``you want to keep the standard going.''

Granted, the Crimson Tide has not been quite as dominant as a year ago, when the defense was led by four players - Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw - who were among the first 35 picks in the NFL draft. Alabama gave up more than 400 yards in two straight games, managing to pull out a win with a last-minute drive at LSU, but going down in a shocking upset to Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa.

Still, the Tide leads the country in points allowed (9.25 per game) and total defense (233.7 yards).

``Those two games, we knew and the coaches knew ... we didn't play our best,'' linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ``So after that loss, we kind of got back to the basics of doing what we have to do. Just doing the little things we do every day in practice - wrapping up, tackles, foot work. Once you lose sight of those things, that's when the big plays start to happen.''

Georgia could've gone into the season with some big holes to fill on defense, but their two leading players - fearsome linebacker Jarvis Jones and ball-hogging safety Bacarri Rambo - passed on the chance to enter the NFL draft. Three other seniors, Williams, cornerback Sanders Commings and nose guard John Jenkins, also returned.

But, when the Bulldogs kicked off in the season opener, three key players were missing. Rambo had to serve a four-game suspension, reportedly for failing a drug test. Commings sat out the first two games after being arrested for an altercation with his girlfriend. Another of the starters, linebacker Alec Ogletree, was suspended four games for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

With so many guys watching from the sideline, Georgia gave up 23 points to Buffalo, 20 to Florida Atlantic. Even when all the suspended players returned, the defense continued to struggle in a 51-44 shootout victory against Tennessee.

The following week, it all fell apart. South Carolina romped to a 35-7 victory over the Bulldogs. The next game wasn't much better, as Georgia struggled to a beat lowly Kentucky 29-24. At that point, Georgia had given up at least 20 points in six of its seven games. With a huge contest coming up against unbeaten Florida, Williams decided it was time to vent.

He said the defense was ``just not playing with the same attitude we were last year.'' In particular, he appeared to single out a pair of teammates, senior linebackers Christian Robinson and Michael Gilliard. They took issue with the comments and vowed to prove Williams wrong. That week, Georgia turned in its best defensive performance of the season, beating the Gators 17-9.

``He didn't do that to disrespect anyone,'' cornerback Damian Swann said. ``He wanted everyone to give 110 percent. He just felt like everybody wasn't. Once he came out and said what he had to say, you've seen a big change in the statistics with how the defense is doing.''

Indeed, Georgia has surrendered only 43 points in its last five games. The yards are also down significantly during that span, an average of 296.4 per game compared to 367.4 over the first seven contests.

Robinson can now smile when asked about Williams' rant.

``I think other people were nervous about getting called out,'' the linebacker quipped. ``They were thinking, `If I don't show up this week, am I going to get called out, too?' It's funny when you look at it now.''

Georgia coach Mark Richt is just glad that someone took the lead, though he wasn't necessarily pleased with the way Williams did it at the time, going through the media instead of speaking behind closed doors.

``When they get their blood high,'' Richt said of his defense, ``they play better.''

The Bulldogs are certainly showing a lot more swagger on that side of the line. Rambo provided the first big dose of bulletin-board material when, in a national radio interview, he said he felt like Georgia had more talent than the Crimson Tide. No one else has gone that far, but everyone says they match up well with the defending national champions.

``Their defense has been one of the tops in the country for the past couple of years,'' Swann said. ``Statistically, we had a couple of games where we didn't look too good. Now, we're getting back to the Georgia defense we know we can be.''

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Aaron Holiday

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Aaron Holiday

School: UCLA
Position: Point guard
Age: 21 (turns 22 in Sept.)
Height: 6-1
Weight: 187
Wingspan: 6-8
Max vertical: 33

2017/18 stats: 20.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46.1 FG%, 42.9 3PT% (2.7 3PT/6.2 3PA), 82.8 FT%
Player comparison: Darren Collison
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 19th, NBADraft.net 24th, Bleacher Report 23rd, Sports Illustrated 23rd

5 things to know:

*Holiday played big minutes in all three seasons for the Bruins. As a junior, he broke out as an elite scorer, averaging 20.3 points while also dishing 5.8 assists per game. Holiday scored in a variety of ways, including at the free throw line where he averaged 5.8 attempts per game and knocked them down at 82.8 percent.

*He is a terrific three-point shooter, one of the best in this draft class based on his college numbers. He hit 42.9 percent of his shots and on 6.2 attempts per game. Holiday shot 42.2 percent from long range in his three-year college career and never shot below 41 percent in a season. He had some games where teams just couldn't stop him from long range. He made four threes or more in 13 college games. Twice he went 5-for-5 and he once made six threes against USC.

*Though he has the skillset to play off the ball as a shooting guard, his size will limit him at the NBA level. Holiday is just under 6-foot-1 in shoes and doesn't have the vertical leap to make up for it. He does, however, have a plus wingspan. At this point, Holiday seems to be solely a point guard, though as long as he's good at the position there is nothing wrong with that.

*Holiday worked out for the Wizards at Capital One Arena. He was part of their first week of predraft workouts and by all accounts had an impressive visit. He hit a lot of shots and fared well in the interview process.

*Holiday has two brothers currently in the NBA. Jrue is a former All-Star who starts at point guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Justin is a shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls. His sister-in-law, Lauren, is a former member of the U.S. women's national soccer team.

Fit with Wizards: The Wizards already have a point guard in John Wall, so Holiday would have no long-term path to starting. That said, he would shore up a need the Wizards have been trying to address for years.

Backup point guard has been a real void for the Wizards for most of Wall's tenure. This past season they tried out all sorts of options between Tomas Satoransky, Tim Frazier, Ramon Sessions and Ty Lawson. Though Satoransky remains on the roster, the Wizards don't appear content with their depth at the position.

Holiday's ability to hit threes is very attractive to the Wizards who could conceivably play him off-the-ball alongside Wall, or even Satoransky. Given Wall (6-4) and Satoransky (6-7) are taller than most point guards, they could theoretically guard shooting guards on the other end.

Holiday would add smarts and shooting to the Wizards' bench in the short-term. In the long-term, he could help lengthen Wall's career by taking some of his workload away and also give the Wizards more options once Wall enters his 30s.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

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Need to Know: The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger

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Need to Know: The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 17, 39 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The best Redskins players 25 or younger

Here is a look at the best Redskins players who have played at least one season and will be 25 or younger as of Week 1 this year. 

WR Jamison Crowder, 25 as of Week 1—Crowder hit the ground running in his first year, with 59 receptions, a team rookie record, and gaining 604 yards. He has been very dependable in his three years, averaging 64 catches, 747 yards, and four receiving touchdowns per year. 

OLB Preston Smith, 25—Since he came into the league, no player but Smith has at least 20.5 sacks, three or more interceptions, and four or more forced fumbles. His sack numbers tend to be up and down from week to week, but Jay Gruden has said more than once that Smith is very consistent in getting pressure on the quarterback even if he doesn’t always get home for the sack. 

DL Matt Ioannidis, 24—A year ago it was thought that he would face an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster. Now goes into the season as a starter and key contributor. The 2016 fifth-round pick got much stronger between his first and second seasons and he took well to the coaching of new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Only a broken hand that cost him two games and had him playing with an awkward cast for a few more kept him from threatening to make double-digit sacks. 

DL Jonathan Allen, 23—The Redskins were just starting to get a hint of what Allen could do early in the season. Pro Football Focus credited him with a total of three sacks in the Redskins third and fourth games. But in their fifth game, he suffered a foot injury that ended his season. Allen was a full go for the offseason program and there is no reason to think that he won’t pick back up right where he left off. 

S Montae Nicholson, 22—Like Allen, Nicholson’s rookie season was shortened due to injuries. He took advantage of the absence of anticipated starter Su’a Cravens and made an impact from the beginning. While the 2017 fourth-round pick and free-agent pickup D.J. Swearinger were in the lineup the decade-long struggles the Redskins have had at the safety position were suddenly gone. 

Best of the rest: WR Josh Doctson (25), C Chase Roullier (25)

It should be noted that DL Daron Payne turned 21 in May and RB Derrius Guice will the 21 later this month so they could be joining this list soon. Assuming those two start, the Redskins will have nine quality starters aged 25 or younger this year. 

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  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder was born on this date in 1993. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 39
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 53
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 76

The Redskins last played a game 166 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 84 days. 

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