Redskins

Branch returns to practice for Raiders

Branch returns to practice for Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch practiced for the first time this week, an encouraging turn for a struggling secondary sorely lacking depth.

Branch, who has missed only one start since a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final eight games of his rookie season in 2008, was limited in Friday's workout after being sidelined by neck and ankle injuries.

That's still considerable progress, and the veteran strong safety is cautiously optimistic he'll play in Oakland's final home game of the season Sunday against Kansas City.

``It's feeling good, feeling better,'' Branch said. ``It's one of those things where you just hope it feels great by the time the game comes around. I want to play but that's coach's decision.''

Branch has led the Raiders in tackles the past two seasons and is second this year behind linebacker Philip Wheeler. He signed a four-year contract in the offseason worth a reported $26.6 million after initially being hit with the franchise player tag.

Even if Branch is unable to play, the Raiders aren't likely to move Michael Huff from his cornerback spot.

Huff began the season as Oakland's starting free safety but was moved to cornerback after injuries to starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, neither of whom are on the team's active roster anymore.

Mike Mitchell, who started on Nov. 18 when Branch's streak of 57 consecutive games ended due to a neck injury, will play if Branch is unable to.

The news wasn't as promising for Richard Seymour. The seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle has not played since injuring his hamstring on Nov. 4 and did not practice Friday after aggravating the same injury a day earlier.

Branch and Seymour are listed as questionable.

``Our plan is to work both of those guys out before the game and see where they're at,'' coach Dennis Allen said. ``We'll make our decision on game day.''

Desmond Bryant has started for Oakland while Seymour has been out. Rookie Christo Bilukidi, a sixth-round draft pick from Georgia State, has also seen his playing time increase over the past month and will split reps with Bryant if Seymour is out.

``From where he came from ... he's made a lot of improvement,'' Allen said. ``Obviously, he's played a little bit more than we really would have anticipated but that's been good for him. It'll be good for him moving forward.''

The Raiders need all the healthy bodies they can get. The defense is already minus four starters from the opening day lineup, including middle linebacker Rolando McClain, who returned this week following a two-game team suspension. McClain has been practicing with Oakland's second-team defense while Omar Gaither takes reps with the starters.

Oakland has dropped six straight and is trying to avoid losing 11 or more games for the eighth time in the last 10 years.

Note: The Raiders announced the game has been sold out and will be televised locally. Oakland has sold out 15 of its last 16 games.

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After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

It's a new team but the same storyline for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2018.

Last year while with the Packers, Clinton-Dix was there as Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone against the Vikings in Week 6. 

Now a Redskin, the safety is coming off of a game where he and his teammates watched Alex Smith badly break his leg while facing the Texans.

So, in just more than 13 months, he's seen two franchise faces go down with long-term injuries. That means when he talks about how the 'Skins can succeed with Colt McCoy leading the way, he's speaking from experience as opposed to trying to imagine it.

"You just have to rally behind him," Clinton-Dix said Tuesday, just two days before Washington's showdown in Dallas on Thanksgiving. "Colt is a great quarterback, he's a winning quarterback. I have a lot of confidence in him. The way he approaches the game, I have a lot of confidence in that as well."

The defensive back is just the latest to compliment how McCoy prepares, something he's been doing for years now, just waiting for his next opportunity to come up. Now it's here, and Clinton-Dix wants the defense to make things as easy as possible on the passer.

"Find a way to give more," he said about what he can do to contribute from the other side of things.

Rodgers did eventually return for Green Bay, but by that time, an inexperienced Brett Hundley had slogged through a 3-6 record, and the Packers were too far out of the playoff hunt, even for Rodgers.

This time around, McCoy's veteran presence is something that's easing Clinton-Dix's mind. 

"I'm not worried about Colt," he said. "I'm excited to watch him go out and play."

Clinton-Dix was worried about McCoy at one point, though.

The defender played for Alabama from 2011-2013 but was paying attention to the signal caller when Texas squared up with the Crimson Tide in the 2010 BCS National Championship. That was a contest that McCoy had to leave early on after hurting his shoulder.

That exit affected history, according to Clinton-Dix.

"If it wasn't for him getting hurt back when he was playing against the Alabama boys, I'm pretty sure we would've never won that game."

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Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

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Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

The story of his signing was simple: Mike Rizzo came to Dan Lozano, Kurt Suzuki’s agent, early and with a direct offer. He told Lozano that Suzuki was “their guy” in this offseason’s hunt for a primary catcher. Suzuki, 35, was pleased Rizzo offered a two-year deal instead of one. His former team, the Atlanta Braves, also offered him a contract at the end of the season. Suzuki declined, hopped into free agency, and decided promptly to return to Washington.

Boom. The end. 

“[Rizzo] told my agent from day one that I’m their guy,” Suzuki said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Whether I’m a guy that catches 120 games or 90 games, or whatever they want me to do, I just told them I will be ready to do whatever you want. And he said I am going to play, obviously. I just said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ So whether that’s 80, 90, 100, 120, it really doesn’t matter to me.”

The question is what the Nationals will need him to do. Room remains for another veteran catcher since Suzuki will reportedly average $5 million annually on his contract. That long-rumored Nationals target J.T. Realmuto could be that veteran catcher is doubtful. There is little reason to pay Suzuki and then trade a high-end prospect in a deal for Realmuto, since that trade would put Realmuto behind the plate for roughly 130 games. A $5 million backup is an ultra-expensive one, especially for a team shaving pennies. Which is why Suzuki is in line to be the starter throughout the season.

“I think at this point of my career, I got no ego. I’ve never had an ego,” Suzuki said. “It was just the point where [Rizzo] said I’m their guy, whether I’m a guy that’s going to catch 50 games or I’m a guy that’s going to catch 120 games. He made it clear that he is going to bring me in to help the team win. And that’s the bottom line.”

He will help. Nationals catchers were among the worst in the league offensively last season. Matt Wieters was injured much of the year. Pedro Severino showed he had no chance at the plate. Spencer Kieboom hit .333 in September. That run was only good enough to pull his average to .232 and his on-base percentage to .322. Not great.

Suzuki’s offense has improved the last two seasons. His OPS+ was above 100 each year in Atlanta, marking two of the three times that happened in his 12-year career. He was an All-Star the other season he reached triple digits. 

Suzuki is not an analytics buff. He didn’t change his offseason routine that focuses on exercise and clean eating via food supplied by his wife, Renee. So, what gives at the plate?

“Honestly, I have no idea, just being honest,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, I started my career off doing pretty well and then kind of hit a little slump. And then the last two years at age 33 and 34, kind of had like a renaissance I guess. And I really haven’t changed much. I go out there and I don’t really think about launch angle and all these analytical things. I go out there and I just try to do some damage.”

He did mention an interesting idea. Suzuki explained relaxing at the plate is crucial to him. Pitchers throw harder now. Much harder on average than when he arrived in the major leagues in 2007 as a 23-year old playing for Oakland. Which means he is going to let them do the work by supplying velocity. He just wants solid, not Herculean, contact. The plan has worked the last two seasons.

But how Suzuki is defensively will be in question. Baseball Savant provides catcher “pop” times, which measures the time from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base, and Suzuki was 93rd out of 108 (Kieboom was 36th, though he played much less).  

All of which hints another veteran catcher could be coming along, the same way the Nationals opened last season with Wieters and Miguel Montero. Suzuki is the start. A coming veteran is a backup. Kieboom and Severino are the emergency plan. Realmuto is a dream lost.

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