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Clemson OC, QB share growing success

Clemson OC, QB share growing success

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Two years ago, newly hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris wasn't sure what to make of talkative, playful and untested quarterback Tajh Boyd.

What Morris found was a kindred spirit in Boyd, eager to learn and ready to trigger an attack that's breaking records and passing milestones every time it takes the field.

``Tajh is a guy who's having fun,'' Morris said.

Both Morris and Boyd appear at the top of their games for the 10th-ranked Tigers (8-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) who face Maryland (4-5, 2-3) on Saturday.

Morris' offense put up 718 yards last week in a victory at Duke, the second highest total in program history and sixth time its surpassed 500 yards this season. Boyd leads the ACC with 2,680 yards and 25 TDs.

Coordinator and quarterback clicked almost from the start, Morris remembered, although it took a while for Boyd to fully understand the commitment to detail necessary to succeed.

Boyd and the Tigers were one of college football's biggest surprises in 2011, Morris' high-flying offense helping the team a surprising 8-0 start. Then came the disastrous 1-3 finish where Boyd's productivity plummeted and his decision making fell apart.

He went from a Heisman Trophy hopeful with 24 TDs and three interceptions the first eight games to throwing seven interceptions and only four touchdowns down the stretch.

The Tigers recovered to win the ACC championship before they were humiliated in the Orange Bowl by West Virginia, surrendering a bowl record for points allowed in a 70-33 loss.

While the focus in that debacle was the Clemson's defense, Boyd threw of pair of interceptions as he struggled to keep pace with the Mountaineers' offense.

Morris knew if Clemson were to pick up its offensive pace, Boyd had to take another big step forward.

The two spent time this offseason working on positioning and footwork. Boyd put time in the weight room, losing about 15 pounds to be more mobile when asked to run.

``Running the ball is one of those things where you have to gain confidence,'' Boyd said. ``If you don't grow up running, you don't feel as comfortable in it. Me and my dad used to talk about it all the time.''

Boyd has already rushed for 350 yards through nine games after getting 218 a year ago.

``I feel faster,'' Boyd said with his trademark smile.

Morris likes the dual threat Boyd's become, although he's not buying into his junior standout's speed. ``He said he was fast. I said, `I don't know about that, but at times you look fast,''' Morris said.

The two also spend plenty of time discussing the pressures of the positions. As Clemson's starting quarterback, Boyd is the most high-profile - and highly scrutinized - athlete on a campus crazy about football.

``It's a big deal to be quarterback for the Clemson Tigers,'' Morris said. ``And with that comes pressure.''

Morris knows about pressure. He's the highest paid assistant in the game at $1.3 million a year and shared with Boyd his worries over calling the perfect offensive game. Boyd acknowledged how difficult it is to strive for mistake-free football with fans' judging you on a play-by-play basis.

The two agreed the sport should be well-played, but fun.

``Sometimes we all feel like we have to be perfect and we don't,'' Morris said. ``Really talked to him about that.''

The pair of also talked about managing the game with the right choices. So far, Morris likes what's he's seen.

``He's the leader of this football team and he's playing like it,'' Morris said.

The pair have spent plenty of time talking about football, life, anything and everything to develop the necessary bond that makes offense go. ``We've got to think so much alike,'' Morris said.

Morris also acts as Boyd's spokesman when things go wrong. When teammates and other coaches want to console or give guidance, Morris might shoo them away so Boyd can have some space. ``You say, `Hey, leave him alone. He'll figure it out,''' Morris said. ``He's done a great job figuring out how to fix things.''

Boyd passed for four touchdowns in Clemson's 56-45 comeback victory at Maryland last year. Terps coach Randy Edsall believes Boyd is much stronger and polished with a year's more experience.

``Boyd is playing extremely well, just throwing the deep ball well and making good decisions,'' Edsall said.

Both Boyd and Morris might have choices to make whenever Clemson's season ends. Boyd is eligible for the NFL draft while Morris' name is sure to be tagged to several head-coaching openings. Neither spends much time thinking about that now with Clemson going so well.

``We've just got to keep working and continue to grow,'' Boyd said.

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some point this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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