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Bama's 'D' shows up the doubters

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Bama's 'D' shows up the doubters

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Alabama's defense had to replace its biggest stars, lacks a dominant pass rusher and has a secondary that Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick thinks is vulnerable.

Nevertheless, scrap those invites to the pity party.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide's defense might not be the smothering, star-studded group of last year's national title team. Yards have still been harder to come by against `Bama than any other defense in the country, and - stats aside - this unit has earned the particular affection of coordinator Kirby Smart.

``This group has probably been one of my most favorite to coach since I've been at Alabama because of the expectations,'' Smart said. ``They didn't have bad expectations, but a lot of the media - you guys had bad expectations for this group.''

Alabama leads the nation in total (246.0) and rushing yards allowed (79.8) and is second both against the pass and, behind Notre Dame, in scoring defense.

The Tide was tops in all those categories last season but also had dominant stars - and high draft picks - like Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and fierce pass rusher Courtney Upshaw.

Now, there are ``only'' two All-Americans - linebacker C.J. Mosley and cornerback Dee Milliner - instead of four to face the top-ranked Fighting Irish on Monday night for the BCS championship.

Riddick sees a front seven of linemen and linebackers that he says has been virtually immoveable. It's the defensive backs - head coach Nick Saban's specialty - where he sees potential for big plays. Maybe from him and a deep group of running backs or quarterback Everett Golson with star tight end Tyler Eifert and receiver T.J. Jones.

``I think we can exploit their secondary because we have some great playmakers on the outside,'' said Riddick, who has 35 catches and 880 rushing yards. ``What can I say? We can't wait for this game.''

Neither can Milliner, who said the DBs draw motivation from doubters.

``I'm glad they'd say something like that just because it makes me want to play even more and go out there and make plays, our secondary also,'' said Milliner, the only real star DB and a likely first-round pick. ``We've been hearing that all season, that we're the group that can be exploited. We're just trying to go out there and pride ourselves on making plays and being a great secondary.

``Since they think we're the weak links of the team, hopefully they'll try to exploit us like they said. And we'll make plays and change their mind.''

Jones was much more complimentary of Alabama's secondary, saying it was the most athletic and best the Fighting Irish will play this season. He said Alabama also employs more man coverage than anybody they've faced.

Opposing quarterbacks have had success at times against Alabama. LSU's Zach Mettenberger passed for 298 yards and Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel threw for 253 and ran for 92. Georgia's Aaron Murray fired away for 265 yards in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

Cornerback Deion Belue, like Milliner, wasn't surprised by Riddick's comment and wouldn't be shocked if Notre Dame threw the ball around at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.

``It's been the same problem all year long,'' said Belue, an immediate starter after transferring from junior college. ``This is the last game of the season, and we've just got to show up once again.

``We're confident, like always.''

Alabama has intercepted 17 passes, four more than last season, but is giving up 55 more yards a game through the air.

Linebacker Nico Johnson said the DBs have looked good in practice leading up to the title game.

``They will play with a chip on their shoulder because they feel like this is our chance on a big stage to show what we really can do,'' Johnson said. ``They think that after the SEC championship game they didn't play their best ball. All of them were kind of down on themselves because they feel like they let us down as a front seven. I keep telling them, `No, y'all didn't do that. We're a unit.'

``We're going to focus on the mistakes that we made and correct them. But I think they're going to come in with the right mind-set and a lot of intensity.''

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Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

Wizards coach Scott Brooks issues strong defense of John Wall after win over Clippers

After his team showed resilience in erasing a 24-point lead to beat the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday night, head coach Scott Brooks swept aside an opportunity to fire back at critics of himself and his team following a barrage of negative headlines in recent days.

Brooks did, however, take the time to address one particular angle of the whole mess. He issued a passionate defense of his star point guard, John Wall, who has been at the center of the controversies surrounding the organization.

Brooks and Wall had an altercation last week during practice that led to Wall receiving a fine from the team. Brooks spoke at length about the incident itself at shootaround. After Tuesday's win, he honed in on a specific criticism of Wall, that he is out of shape and not giving an honest effort on the floor.

"John, he's been taking hits. Let's face it," Brooks said. "You hear all the reports that he's heavy. The guy has seven percent body fat..."

"He's in great shape. I like the way he plays. He plays hard."

Brooks went on to point out how Wall hasn't been playing at 100 percent for much of this season. Wall has dealt with a deep thigh bruise and it's partly to explain for the Wizards' 6-11 start.

The overall numbers look about how they should for Wall.

He's averaging 21.5 points, 7.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 44.4 percent from the field. But his defense has been lacking and he's not getting the assists he usually collects because he hasn't had the same burst in transition.

Playing through injuries is always tricky for professional athletes. When people know they're hurt, that effort is often appreciated. But when the injuries aren't disclosed, fans and members of the media can only draw conclusions based on what they see.

Brooks explained in detail why he thinks Wall should be cut some slack for his start to the season.

"He's a warrior. There's a lot of guys that I've seen in my playing career that they love to sit out. They're just talented and they've got talented contracts. They sit out and you can't do anything about it. You admire and you appreciate and you celebrate the guys that play hard. You don't have to tell the world that he's banged up," Brooks said.

"He didn't say one word and I wasn't gonna say it. It's over. He's feeling great. He's fought. He's not gonna tell the world 'look at me, I'm sore.' He doesn't want your sympathy. He just fights and he plays the right way. He plays hard."

Brooks is clearly trying to stick up for his star player and change the current media narrative.

As long as the Wizards win, that shouldn't be hard to do.

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Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

Emotional John Wall opens up about trade rumors, coming arrival of son after comeback win

The subject of trade rumors and reports of in-fighting at Wizards practice over the past few days, John Wall proved his worth to the Wizards on the court Tuesday night. 

Washington trailed the Clippers by as many as 24 points, but Wall helped orchestrate a furious comeback which concluded in a 125-118 Washington win. Wall led all scorers with 30 points and dished out eight assists. 

After the game, Wall opened up to NBC Sports Washington's Chris Miller about the cloud of controversy which has surrounded the Wizards this week, as well as a far more serious matter in his personal life: he's gonna be a dad soon!

"It's amazing, man. All the heart and effort and drive I've had for this organization, this team, to hear certain things like being traded, I try to stay focused," he told Miller. "Focused on getting ready to have my new son, trying to turn this organization around, this franchise around and win some games."

"All it is is go out there and compete, dog. All of us go out here and compete, that's one thing I always did since day one is give everything I got. And to hear those type of things, it's kind of funny. It's frustrating at the same time, but I've been through worse things. I just stand over top of all that."

And as his coach, Scott Brooks, has been preaching over the last few weeks, Wall believes the only way the Wizards turn around their season is if they show one thing: effort. 

"It's just about effort, man. Effort and heart," he said. "I've been preaching that since I've been here from day one, and in the second half we gave a lot of effort and heart. That's why we came back and fought hard, and got a great win that we needed."

"In the first half, we didn't play with no energy, no sense of urgency, and they beat the brakes off of us. We got to find a way to dig deep, and we made some big shots and got some big stops."

"It's not where we want to be, it's not where we started. Dealing with injuries, dealing with those type of things, you make no excuses. Whoever step between these lines, you go out there and compete, and that's all I ask for the14 guys, including myself, is to go play hard.

It's far too early to declare it as such, but if the Wizards can build off of Tuesday's performance, it may very well be looked at as the night Wall and Washington turned their season around. 

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