Redskins

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force faces Rice in Armed Forces Bowl

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) Troy Calhoun remembers the day almost six years ago when he returned to Air Force as the first academy graduate to become the head coach.

The Falcons were coming off three consecutive losing seasons, and Calhoun recalls what he was told after taking the job.

``Somebody said, `Hey, realistically, these first five years, if you can catch lightning in a bottle one time, maybe you get to a bowl game,''' Calhoun said Friday.

Try six bowls in six seasons.

Air Force (6-6) makes its school-record sixth consecutive bowl appearance Saturday against Rice (6-6) of Conference USA in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Calhoun's first season ended with a loss to California in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl, where the Falcons played three consecutive years before going to the Independence and Military bowls the last two years. They are back in Fort Worth after overcoming the loss of 17 senior starters from last season.

``I first found out about this opportunity back in the summer. We knew it would be really a goal for our squad,'' said Calhoun, whose team is the Mountain West Conference representative in the game. ``We had only five starters coming back into this season. ... The first two weeks in August, we were a long, long ways away from being a bowl team.''

Even with the huge turnover in the starting lineup, the Falcons still do well what they have for so long. They run. Air Force is second nationally with 329 yards rushing per game, and won against Hawaii - the victory that got them bowl eligible - without throwing a single pass.

``They are a very disciplined team,'' Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines said. ``You can't try to do too much against this team because that's when they break the big plays. So you just have to be sound, and everything else will take care of itself.''

Gaines broke up 18 passes during the regular season, tying for the national lead. Only four NCAA players have had 20 in a season, the last in 2006. Against Air Force, Gaines may not get many chances to reach that mark, though he knows he has stay focused on the receiver he's covering.

With only seven seniors (three of them tight ends), Rice is in its first bowl game since 2008. The Owls, who lost three games by four points or less, were 1-5 after a 14-10 loss at Memphis the first weekend of October.

``We set our goals to go to a bowl game this season. It was one where we were 1-5 at one point and had to get on a roll,'' coach David Bailiff said. ``It's a tribute to our seniors who every day when our football team came over there, we would not let them have bad days. We drew a line in the sand. We used a lot of the hard lessons early that put us on a roll late.''

Like Calhoun at Air Force, Bailiff is in his sixth season at Rice. The Owls made it to the Texas Bowl in Bailiff's second season, but this is only their third bowl since two postseason games during the 1961 calendar year - the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 and the Bluebonnet Bowl in December of that year.

Since the Falcons' last game, senior quarterback Connor Dietz has graduated from the academy and been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.

``He's an officer now, so we have to take orders from him and actually listen to him now,'' senior defensive lineman Nick DeJulio said with a chuckle. ``He's one of our influential leaders.''

Dietz, who followed a pair of four-year starting quarterbacks, is feeling healthy after being banged up toward the end of the regular season, when Air Force lost three of its last four games. He has thrown for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns and run for 658 yards with five scores.

While Dietz only attempted four passes in the regular season finale after the zero-pass game against Hawaii, he expects the Falcons to mix in a few more passing plays against Rice - if needed.

``We're not the same offense every year, we're not the same offense every game,'' Dietz said. ``When we have to throw, we throw. When we have to run, we run. It's kind of one of those things, where if it's working, why change it? That's kind of how we approach every game. We go in with a big game plan, but if a certain little thing is working, why get away from it?''

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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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USA Today Sports

10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

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USA Today

Sánchez and Adams lead Nationals in crucial win over Braves

ATLANTA—Anibal Sanchez outpitched Mike Soroka and scored the go-ahead run in the fifth inning, Matt Adams homered and the Washington Nationals beat the Atlanta Braves 5-3 on Saturday night.

Second-place Washington pulled within 5 games of the NL East-leading Braves, improving to 33-14 since May 24, best in the majors over that span. Atlanta has dropped four of five.

Sanchez (6-6) got a big assist in the bottom of the fifth when shortstop Trea Turner turned a bases-loaded double play, leaping to nab Nick Markakis' liner and throwing to first to beat Josh Donaldson back to the bag.

Soroka (10-2) allowed four runs and nine hits in six innings. He had won 10 straight decisions, best by an Atlanta pitcher since Hall of Famer Greg Maddux had a 10-decision streak in 2001.

Sean Doolittle got the last five outs, facing the minimum, for his 21st save in 25 chances. He struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner at second to end the eighth and breezed through the ninth.

Washington went up 4-1 in the fifth when Sanchez reached on an infield single to third, took second on Donaldson's throwing error and scored on Turner's double. Turner took third on Adam Eaton's single and scored on Anthony Rendon's single. Eaton scored on Juan Soto's single.

The Nationals took a 5-3 lead in the eighth off A.J. Minter as Turner singled, stole second and scored on Eaton's single.

Adams went deep for the 15th time, an opposite-field homer that bounced off the top of the wall in left-center and into the stands to tie it at 1-all in the fourth.

Sanchez, who pitched for the Braves last year and helped them win the division, allowed three runs and six hits and has a 2.70 ERA in his last nine starts.

Atlanta led 1-0 in the first when Acuna reached on an infield single, stole second base, advanced on a flyout and scored on Freddie Freeman's single.

Brian McCann's ninth homer, a two-run shot in the sixth, chased Sanchez and cut the lead to 4-3.

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NBC Sports Washington's Michael Stearman contributed to this Associated Press story.