Redskins

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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Ron Rivera describes situation with Trent Williams as 'fluid,' has no update on guard Brandon Scherff

Ron Rivera describes situation with Trent Williams as 'fluid,' has no update on guard Brandon Scherff

Redskins head coach Ron Rivera was asked a plethora of questions when he addressed the media at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday, such as what impressed him about quarterback Dwayne Haskins and what players the team will consider with the No. 2 pick.

While Rivera talked in detail about meeting with top quarterback prospects and what his view on free agency is, the head coach did not offer much insight about two offensive linemen: Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff.

Rivera confirmed recent reports that he had spoken with Williams, the team's cornerstone left tackle, but would not go much further than that.

"Trent Williams and I have talked. We had a good conversation," Rivera said. "Again, that's a work in progress and we'll see how things unfold. It's a fluid situation."

Williams, of course, did not play a snap for the Redskins in 2019, holding out after believing Redskins doctors misdiagnosed a cancerous growth on his head for nearly six years. But after the organization had practically a complete reboot this offseason, firing longtime team president Bruce Allen and athletic trainer Larry Hess.

Rivera stated he has a plan to get Williams to return. A report last week stated No. 71 will return to the Redskins because of Rivera. But thus far, nothing has amounted.

"I think where it is, we're still working through details," Rivera said. "We're in a good place. We had a good conversation and we're going to go from that."

The head coach was also asked questions about right guard Brandon Scherff, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Scherff reportedly turned down a hefty extension last year that would have paid him upwards of $13 million annually, but did tell NBC Sports Washington last October he wants to remain in Washington for the entirety of his career.

Rivera was asked about his plan with Scherff and whether the franchise tag was a potential option. The head coach gave a vague response while avoiding answering the question directly.

"Well, the biggest thing again, is that we like our guys," Rivera said. "We like our guys that are free agents. We want to try to bring those guys back, we'll see how things go."

The head coach's answer did not sound like he's confident the Redskins will be able to retain the three-time Pro Bowler.

"You have to look at everything," Rivera said. "What happens if they don't come back? It's a pretty fair free agency, but you never know, because guys are trying to re-sign their own players."

The Redskins have until March 12 to place the franchise tag on Scherff, should they decide to go that route. Until then, the two sides are expected to continue to work on reaching a long-term deal.

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Carter Kieboom’s early defensive struggles at third base aren’t a major concern--yet

Carter Kieboom’s early defensive struggles at third base aren’t a major concern--yet

Carter Kieboom is getting his chance.

The 22-year-old infield prospect is competing for the Nationals’ starting job at third base this spring following the departure of Anthony Rendon in free agency. A natural shortstop, Kieboom has started just nine games at third in his professional career but is shifting across the infield because that’s where the Nationals need him.

So far, the early returns have been—well, not great. On Sunday, Kieboom dropped a line drive off the bat of Miami Marlins slugger Jesús Aguilar then sailed the throw over the head off first baseman Eric Thames for his first error of the spring. He picked up his second miscue against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, when he charged a groundball and missed his target while throwing on the run.

The plays aren’t pretty, but that’s what spring training is for.

Competitions are held, young players get their shot, everyone has something they’re working to improve. Kieboom is trying to earn a job at a position he hasn’t played regularly since he was a kid. Mistakes shouldn’t be reasons for alarm, they should be expected.

That being said, Kieboom will only be granted the it’s-still-early grace period for so long. Opening Day is less than a month away, meaning manager Davey Martinez is going to have to make a decision in the next few weeks about what he’s going to do with Kieboom.

If these errors continue, then he won’t be forced into playing Kieboom in the majors. The Nationals have a backup plan in Asdrúbal Cabrera ready to assume the position should Kieboom need more time in the minors to work at the position. Washington is already faced with few clear opportunities for Howie Kendrick to get at-bats, so sending Kieboom down makes it easier for him to make regular starts.

But for now, there’s no reason to panic over Kieboom’s first few errors. As NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes pointed out on the Nationals Talk podcast, the Nationals’ spring training leader in errors was none other than Victor Robles (he had three). You know, the Victor Robles who was a Gold Glove finalist in center field?

Kieboom is getting his chance. It’s just a question of how many the Nationals are going to give him.

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