Capitals

49ers RB Gore loving big holes created by O-line

49ers RB Gore loving big holes created by O-line

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Frank Gore looks at his three 100-yard rushing performances, four touchdowns and overall stellar output in the season's first half and is quick to praise an unheralded offensive line that plays such an integral part in helping him do it.

Helping San Francisco's entire offense shine, too. These big boys block all over the field, every which way - even if it means taking on a speedy, more athletic defensive back.

``It's fun because they look at you like you're not supposed to be down there,'' right tackle Anthony Davis said Wednesday. ``We're a lot bigger than them.''

Gore appreciates every athletic block, every hustle play.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back insists he has never had such huge holes ahead of him to run, and that is the ultimate compliment to the 49ers' talented, much-improved O-line. Gore is now gearing up for a strong stretch the rest of the way with the NFC West-leading Niners (6-2), as long as these guys keep doing the dirty work ahead of him to keep things clicking toward another playoff berth.

Gore has run for 656 yards on 119 carries, averaging a career-best 5.5 yards - topping his 5.4 average in 2006.

``My O-linemen are doing a (heckuva) job of springing me and giving me big lanes that I've never seen before,'' Gore said. ``So I have to give it to them, and to the receivers blocking down field.''

While Gore has only played alongside two Pro Bowl linemen during his eight NFL seasons with San Francisco - Larry Allen in 2006 and left tackle Joe Staley last season - recognition hardly means much to this tight-knit unit that truly enjoys going to work together each day during the grind of a 16-game season.

Early last year, the line faced criticism for a slow start, then took more heat after quarterback Alex Smith was sacked nine times in a Thanksgiving night loss at Baltimore. Staley, Jonathan Goodwin and Co. have done their best to ignore - and sometimes even call out - the skeptics and move forward by sticking together to stay the course.

``There's a lot of talent in that room, on that line. The one thing I'll say about this line is it's a hard-working line, it's a line that's not satisfied with a little success,'' Goodwin said. ``I think everybody wants big success for themself and this team.''

And the Niners are getting more of a push from opposing defenses within the division this season, as every team has either upgraded or just plain improved on that side of the ball.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher realizes what a load his defense faces on Sunday in stopping Gore, slowing down Smith and his large cast of receivers - and doing all that against a physical, do-everything offensive line.

``I can't remember having to prepare for an offense that was so well-coached and so diversified in the run game and so talented, the different types of run concepts,'' Fisher said.

Smith connected with nine different wideouts in a 24-3 road rout of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football on Oct. 29, and like Gore the quarterback gives much of the credit to the line. Smith was also sacked four times that night and has been taken down 22 times this season for 128 lost yards - yet the 2005 No. 1 overall pick recently said he takes the blame and would rather be sacked than risk throwing an interception.

``They have a lot on their plate, week in and week out,'' Smith said. ``We ask them to do a lot, run and pass. Really, our balance starts with them, the ability in the run game and then protect in the pass game. They continue to execute, not just physically but mentally.''

That's just part of the job, said left guard Mike Iupati. He and Davis were both first-round draft picks in 2010 and became instant starters. Now, they're veterans.

``We're all on the same page. We want to win. That's the key to it,'' Iupati said. ``Just sticking together, camaraderie. We have each other's back, and also the communication factor.''

Whatever makes them work, other teams are taking notice. There's so much to deal with on San Francisco's offense.

``They have a lot invested in the O-line and do a very good job. It just makes that play action a nightmare when you try to stop the run,'' St. Louis linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ``And when you have an O-line like that, they have some weird running plays. They'll run some running plays I don't think I've seen since the Tecmo Super Bowl, playing that video game.''

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

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