Redskins

Charles starring for Chiefs after tragedy

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Charles starring for Chiefs after tragedy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Jamaal Charles took the handoff on the first play of the game, skipped to his right and found a crease. He slipped through the hole, made a subtle cutback and then raced to the end zone.

On that 80-yard touchdown run against Cleveland, Charles looked as good as ever.

What he's gone through made it even more impressive.

This is a running back coming off a torn ACL last season, and who is going against defenses every week that know the Chiefs are dependent almost solely on him. He's a guy operating behind a patchwork offensive line for a team that's lost 11 of its first 13 games.

He's also a guy running with a heavy heart.

Charles was friends with Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, and helped introduce Belcher to wife Whitney's cousin, Kasandra Perkins. Two weeks ago Saturday, Belcher fatally shot Perkins in a home not far from Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and committed suicide as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel watched.

Charles hasn't spoken publicly since the incident, and may not for the remainder of the season, but he's been able to perform at an All-Pro level despite everything that has transpired.

``I think it speaks to the character of him as a man, how he's able to have an optimistic perspective despite all the things he's been through right now,'' Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn said. ``It really speaks to who he is as man.''

As a player, Charles leads the AFC with 1,220 yards rushing. His 91-yard touchdown run against the Saints is the longest in the league this season, and his four carries of 40-plus yards are tied for second-most in the NFL behind the Vikings' Adrian Peterson.

``We've leaned on him all year, as you look at it,'' Crennel said. ``He's been the consistent staple in our offense, because he gains yards and he's the guy who has the potential to run for a touchdown. We kind of lean on him.''

Especially the last few weeks.

Charles ran for 107 yards in a loss to the Broncos, the week before the murder-suicide that rocked the franchise. The day after it, when there were questions of whether the Chiefs would even play the Panthers, Charles ran for 127 yards in an emotional 27-21 victory.

Highlighted by his long TD run last week, Charles piled up 165 yards in a 30-7 loss to the Browns, providing a silver lining for a game - and a season - shrouded in darkness. Charles figures to have a big role in the game plan this week, too, and probably for the rest of the season. The Chiefs' only reliable wide receiver, Dwayne Bowe, has injured ribs that could keep him off the field for the final three games.

That means the Chiefs could become even more one-dimensional headed to Oakland this weekend.

``Everybody knows we can run the ball,'' Crennel said. ``The thing we have to look at is they're going to load up the box to stop the run, and we've made some plays as a result of teams doing that against us. And Bowe has been a part of that. That's why I say other receivers have to step up, so we can throw the ball or do something different to back them off the running game.''

Oakland was one of the few teams to have success in stopping Charles this season, though part of that was because the Raiders never really had to worry about him.

When the teams played at Arrowhead in late October, Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll only gave Charles five carries in the entire game, netting a whopping four yards.

He carried only 12 times for 39 yards the following week against San Diego.

It was at that point in the season that Crennel, who had been running the defense in addition to his head coaching duties, turned that side of the ball over to Gary Gibbs. Crennel said at the time that he wanted to have a bigger role in overseeing the offense, but he might just as well have been saying that he wanted to ensure Charles was getting touches.

Charles only averaged about 16 carries over the first eight games of the season. He's toted the ball nearly 22 times per game over the past five.

Crennel said he's not worried about Charles' durability, either, despite the devastating knee injury he sustained last season in Detroit. The former Pro Bowl running back has proven that he can carry a heavy load, stand up after taking a hit and prepare to do it all over again.

``Jamaal is a tough guy, even though he looks like the wind could blow him over sometimes,'' Crennel said. ``He's pretty tough, and he's been here every day in practice, working hard, trying to get better and trying to help this team. You have to give him some kudos for being able to do that week-in and week-out. You take a pounding at the running back position.''

The physical toll this season has taken has been enormous. So has the emotional toll.

Through it all, Charles has remained one of the few bright spots for a Chiefs franchise in turmoil, one of the rare reasons to cheer in a season that long ago spiraled out of control.

``He's a tremendous player, and for whatever reasons, obviously teams in the hunt, or have a little better record, get a little more recognition,'' Quinn said, ``but that kid is obviously blessed.''

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After years of neglect on defensive line, Redskins continue smart moves with Matt Ioannidis deal

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USA Today Sports

After years of neglect on defensive line, Redskins continue smart moves with Matt Ioannidis deal

For two decades the Redskins bounced back and forth between neglect and negligence along their defensive line. 

Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, Washington hadn't selected a defensive lineman in the first round since the 1990s. The team just did not invest in the draft in the interior of their defensive line. During that time, there were some big-name free agent acquisitions up front, but those didn't work out either. In fact, the Albert Haynesworth contract might be the worst in the history of the sport. 

The result, largely, was bad play along the defensive front and an inability to stop the run, and that largely coincided with losing football teams. There is a direct correlation. 

In the last two seasons, however, the Redskins dramatically changed their approach.

In 2017, Washington selected defensive tackle Jonathan Allen out of Alabama in the first round. In 2018, Washington again took an Alabama defensive linemen in the first round in Daron Payne. The team also added fifth-rounder Tim Settle out of Virginia Tech. 

This week news emerged from Ashburn that the 'Skins took care of another defensive linemen, 2016 fifth-rounder Matt Ioannidis, with a three-year contract extension with $14 million guaranteed. 

Of all the moves to bolster the defensive line, the new deal for Ioannidis should make 'Skins fans the most excited. 

When Allen slipped to middle of the first round in 2017, it was a no-brainer to pick him. When the Redskins added Payne last season, he was the highest player on their draft board at a position of need. 

Those moves were good, but obvious. 

Inking Ioannidis to a contract extension was anything but obvious, and that's why this move looks so good. 

This is a late-round pick out of Temple, hardly a football factory like Alabama. Ioannidis was cut as a rookie after his first training camp, and the team signed him back to their practice squad. Eventually, he made the active roster in 2016 and played sparingly in parts of 10 games. He finished that year with seven tackles. 

Then, something happened.

The Redskins developed a late-round pick, and while Ioannidis deserves a ton of credit for turning his body into 300 lbs. of bull-rushing muscle, the organization deserves credit too, particularly defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. 

In his second NFL season, Ioannidis logged 4.5 sacks an 27 tackles in 14 games. Last year, he got 7.5 sacks and 31 tackles in 14 games. 2018 marked the real turning point for Ioannidis. Early on, he ws a beast, and his sack-per-snap numbers ranked among the best in the league. 

Injuries have been an issue for the 25-year-old, but beyond that, Washington was wise to lock Ioannidis up now. 

2019 would be the final season on his rookie deal, and if he performs similarly this year as he did last year, his potential free agent market would have been hot. If he improves this fall, Ioannidis would have commanded a significantly higher deal next offseason than the one he just signed to stay in Washington. 

There's also the precedent that the Redskins front office can identify their valuable young talent and take care of those players. The last two offseasons, Washington has let a number of draft picks walk in free agency. Players like Jamison Crowder, Preston Smith, Ryan Grant, Trent Murphy and Spencer Long are just some of the names. Getting an extension done with Ioannidis reinforces for other players in the 'Skins locker room that the money will come if they work hard and play well. 

Don't forget either that it was head coach Jay Gruden that pushed hard for the team to draft Matt Ioannidis back in 2016. While the head coach faces significant pressure this fall to find a playoff bid, this is a good example of the coach's personnel acumen. 

There's also some long-term roster construction in play. 

The Redskins have three more years of contractual control for 24-year-old Allen, and four more years for the 21-year-old Payne. Now, Ioannidis is under contract for four more seasons. 

That's three high impact players on the defensive line, all under 25 years old, that will be in Burgundy and Gold through at least the 2021-22 season. 

It wasn't long ago that the defensive line was by far the Redskins worst position group on the team. In 2016, they had the worst run defense in the league. 

Credit to the team for fixing that, finally. 

And credit to the team for recognizing young talent, and proactively getting a deal done before Ioannidis hits free agency. 

Redskins fans often say they want their team to do what the good teams do. Here's the formula: find hidden talent late in the draft, develop that talent, sign them long-term. 

With the Matt Ioannidis contract extension, that's exactly what Washington just did. 

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How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

ARLINGTON – Things have not gone well for the Capitals the last few days. After taking a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington saw that lead evaporate with two losses in Raleigh as they were outscored 7-1 and lost T.J. Oshie to injury. But even as the series momentum has taken a serious shift in Carolina’s favor, the mood in Washington remains calm.

“You know it’s playoffs,” Jakub Vrana said. “You can’t ever get too low or too high. We’re going to try to manage as best we can in the situation that we are right now.”

The underlying calm and confidence the Caps feel comes from past experience. Having always been the team that came up short in the playoffs, now Washington is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and it is not as if their path to the Cup was without its challenges.

“We understand what we went through last year,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “This is part of the experience. We went through some difficult times last year whether it was injuries or suspensions or being down in series, whether it was 0-2 or 3-2 in different series and battling through some tough times. We managed as a group to come through it.”

The Caps went down 0-2 in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets before rattling off four straight wins to advance. They lost three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and faced elimination in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. They responded with two perfect games, shutting out the Lightning in both. Washington lost Game 1 in three out of four playoff series in 2018 and trailed at some point in all four.

And yet, they still came out on top in the end.

Amid those struggles were a number of key losses on the roster. In the decisive Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovksy and Tom Wilson. Backstrom and Burakovsky were out injured while Wilson was suspended. The team will need to lean on that experience now with Oshie out indefinitely.

“Obviously, that’s something that you never want to have is one of your top players going down,” Chandler Stephenson said, “But it shows that last year we had guys coming in and pulling their weight and doing a little more and it helped us a lot. It gave us a little extra spark and it’s just more opportunity for everyone and I think we’re ready for it. It’s obviously motivation in itself to do it for Osh now, too.”

This time, the team will be looking for a spark from Devante Smith-Pelly, a playoff hero from 2018 who was recalled from the Hershey Bears on Friday in response to Oshie’s injury.

“Yeah, it’s tough to not have Osh right now,” Vrana said. “He’s been a big part of this team but it is what it is and we’re going to try to fill the spot as best we can.”

Even Nic Dowd, in his first season with Washington, can feel the confidence in the room.

“That is why they make it best-of-seven,” Dowd said. “This is my first time doing this, but I've played in a lot of playoff hockey before this, American League, college, stuff like that. I think the confidence hasn't changed. I think we still are a calm team. Our guys are going to be ready. Like I said, it is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every team that is left is a good team and every team wants to win."

While there are no such things as moral victories in professional sports, that does not mean good things cannot come from losses. The Caps have not played their best hockey in any of the four games in the series. Perhaps two losses in Carolina will provide the wake-up call Washington needs.

“Maybe that spurs us on to a different level of play because we need a different level of play from everybody,” Reirden said. “They pushed back and now it's our turn to return the favor when they come into our building. We worked hard and played hard all year to have this opportunity to have home ice in this round. Now it's our chance to see it through. It's something that we're going to need everybody and everybody's top game. Credit to them that they've played well, but I also know that there's another level our team can get to.”

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