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49ers defense hungry for shutouts

49ers defense hungry for shutouts

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) There's no secret about what the NFL's second-ranked defense wants to accomplish over the second half of the season.

It's the same list of things the first-place San Francisco 49ers got done on that side of the football during their first eight games.

``As a defensive unit, the way we play speaks for itself,'' outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said Friday. ``We're an aggressive D, and we want to shut guys out.''

Nobody in the league does that better than the 49ers, who have allowed fewer points than any team and rank either first or second in the NFL in seven defensive categories as they prepare for their first game since their bye on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

The long layoff - San Francisco will be playing just its second game in 24 days - gave the 49ers some time to reflect on a defensive performance that was dominant during most of the season's first half.

The 49ers, who returned all 11 starters from last season, have matured as a veteran unit, building on what they accomplished in 2011 when San Francisco ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense and led the league in rushing defense.

``It's a veteran group of talented players, and you see upward trajectory really in all their play,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said. ``I don't see anybody that's falling off or decreasing in their effort or their performance on the field. And then how they're playing together as a group - all those things - we're seeing good improvement at a high level.''

The 49ers (6-2) have played at the highest level keeping opponents away from their goal line. San Francisco has allowed a NFL-low nine touchdowns, including a league-low six through the air.

The 49ers have not allowed a touchdown in four of their past five games, and their opponents have scored just 12 total points in those four victories. San Francisco shut out the New York Jets in September and is allowing just 12.9 points per game, which would be a franchise record if it holds to the end of the season.

San Francisco's lone shutout last season came against St. Louis at Candlestick Park, where the 49ers will be looking to shut down the struggling Rams (3-5) again and extend their 11-game home winning streak against NFC West opponents. That's the longest active streak in the NFL.

``You want to be good at everything, but the biggest thing is keeping teams out of the end zone,'' Harbaugh said. ``Number one is keep the other team from scoring, as few points as possible.''

The 49ers also have made strides this year defending against the pass, which has made them a complete defense. San Francisco ranks second in the NFL in pass defense after finishing 16th in that category last year.

San Francisco is the only NFL team not to allow a passing touchdown of more than 20 yards this season, and the 49ers have allowed only nine passing plays of 25 or more yards, the third-fewest in the league.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has lauded the improvement of his starting secondary, which includes Pro Bowlers Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson, and also nickel cornerback Chris Culliver, who has become a regular part of San Francisco's defensive packages.

``Little strides in a lot of areas equals a big difference,'' Fangio said.

One area where the 49ers would like things to be different the rest of the season is creating more turnovers. The Niners led the NFL in takeaways (38) and turnover differential (plus-28) last season, but at midseason this year they've produced only 12 turnovers and their turnover differential stands at plus-3.

But there's still a half season to work on improving those numbers.

``We were looking at that turnover-ratio chart the other day,'' Brooks said. ``Last year, we were at the top of that chart. We're going to have to boost that up. But we'll just keep doing the same things we've been doing all year, the same things we were doing last year, just trying to go out there and dominate the other team.''

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Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals deal Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik ahead of the draft

DALLAS—The Capitals have dealt backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round pick, the team announced shortly before the NHL Draft kicked off Friday at American Airlines Center.

After the moves, the Caps had more than $21 million in space under the salary cap ceiling, according to www.capfriendly.com, and potentially enough room to accommodate new contracts for John Carlson and other key free agents.

GM Brian MacLellan was widely expected to deal Grubauer, a 26-year-old who wanted the opportunity to be a No. 1. As a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who was also coming off a strong season, Grubauer was due a significant raise.

“We would like to thank Brooks and Philipp for all of their contributions to our organization,” MacLellan said in a statement. “Philipp has been a consummate professional and a great teammate and we wish him all the best.”

Trading Orpik, on the other hand, was a bit unexpected, particularly considering how much the 37-year-old’s rugged play and leadership meant to the Caps during their run to the Stanley Cup.

By dealing Orpik, MacLellan shed his $5.5 million cap hit for next season—an important development given the Caps’ tight salary cap situation and the number of key players who need new contracts. Carlson, Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek are unrestricted free agents, while Tom Wilson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Travis Boyd and Madison Bowey are restricted free agents.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Avalanche are expected to help Orpik land a preferred spot, whether via trade or buyout. By taking on Orpik in the deal, Friedman reported, the Avs only had to give up one pick.

“Brooks,” MacLellan continued, “was a great leader and a tremendous role model for our young players in his four years with our organization. This was a difficult move, but the one we felt we needed to make in order to give some flexibility moving forward.”

Will moving out Grubauer and eliminating Orpik’s cap charge allow MacLellan to ink Carlson, who's set to become the top defenseman on the free agent market? That’s unclear, but it will sure help the Caps’ cause. Carlson is expected to command an extension in the eight-year, $8 million per neighborhood. 

Dealing Orpik also opens up a spot for a young and inexpensive defenseman such as Christian Djoos or Madison Bowey to take on a bigger role in 2018-19.

Without Grubauer, the Caps are likely to turn to Pheonix Copley, who is due to earn the NHL minimum of $650,000 next season, as their backup next season. And if Copley starts the year in Washington, that allows 2015 first round pick Ilya Samsonov to take the reins in Hershey.

The second round pick the Caps received in exchange for Grubauer and Orpik is the 47th overall selection.

MacLellan is expected to speak to reporters following the first round later Friday night. The Caps currently hold the 31st overall pick.

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Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

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USA Today Sports

Bryce Harper will compete in Home Run Derby, but only on one condition

It’s happening.

When the 2018 All-Star Weekend comes to Washington, D.C. in the middle of July, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper will compete in the 2018 Home Run Derby, but only on one condition: He has to be a member of the 2018 National League All-Star Team.

Though Harper is having a down year, only hitting .213 thus far, he leads the NL in home runs with 19.

In the June 18 update of All-Star game voting, Harper sat second among all outfielders with just north of 1,000,000 votes.

That means he’s not only going to make the All-Star team, but he’ll likely start in the outfield.

Harper, a five-time All-Star, competed in the Home Run Derby once before. He was the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in 2013, losing by just one long ball, 9-8.

The 2018 Home Run Derby will take place on July 16 at Nationals Park.

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