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Cougars remain work in progress

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Cougars remain work in progress

PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) At the midpoint of Washington State's first season under coach Mike Leach, the Cougars remain a work in progress.

Washington State (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12) has problems all around, and so far has mostly failed to produce in the Air Raid offense that Leach made famous at Texas Tech.

The Cougars have twice been held without touchdowns, barely escaped FCS opponent Eastern Washington, and lost to Pac-12 doormat Colorado.

Talk of qualifying for a bowl game, prevalent after Leach was hired, is now muted.

``We've improved as a team, but we've had a lot of missed opportunities,'' Leach said. ``If we were a more mature, mentally tougher team, we could have capitalized on them.''

``Right now we are a team that if we face any adversity, we get discouraged,'' Leach said.

As a result, many veteran players have been dropped from the starting lineup in favor of younger players, he said.

Leach has described some of the team's seniors as having an ``empty corpse'' quality when it comes to leadership.

The season got off to an inauspicious start with a 30-6 loss at BYU. The Cougars posted narrow wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV, then suffered a fourth quarter collapse that allowed Colorado to overcome a nearly three touchdown deficit and win 35-34.

They lost to No. 2 Oregon 51-26, and put in a sterling defensive effort in a 19-6 loss at No. 10 Oregon State.

Linebacker Darryl Monroe said the team is hungry for its first Pac-12 win.

``Any win is what we need,'' he said. ``It's what any team needs.''

To get there, the Cougars need to play a complete game, with offense, defense and special teams all performing well, he said.

``We've just got to keep grinding throughout the season,'' Monroe said. ``No game is a gimme.''

The Cougars have six games left, starting this Saturday when they host California (2-4, 1-2).

Can they win four of those six to reach their first bowl game since 2003?

``I think it's very realistic,'' said quarterback Connor Halliday.

Halliday's optimism aside, the better question might be whether the Cougars can achieve a record as good as the 4-8 that got former coach Paul Wulff fired after last season.

Problems include inconsistent play at quarterback and receiver, a non-existent running game and a defense that is surrendering 30 points and 455 yards per game.

Senior quarterback Jeff Tuel began the season as the starter, but has been displaced by sophomore Halliday. Neither has been able to consistently move an offense averaging just 21 points per game.

Both quarterbacks saw playing time against Oregon State, and Leach has said Halliday will start against Cal.

``He's been playing the best,'' Leach said.

Halliday has thrown for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns, but has also been intercepted nine times.

More troubling is the lack of a running game. The Cougars average just 41 yards rushing per game behind a committee that includes Teondray Caldwell, Carl Winston and Leon Brooks.

``It means we are not able to move their front around,'' Leach said of the lack of a running game. ``We have got to get better up front.''

Star receiver Marquess Wilson has 34 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns, which are good numbers. But Leach has been on him to do more, and is more likely to praise the efforts of Isiah Myers (29 catches, 272 yards) and Gabe Marks (24 catches, 379 yards).

Senior receiver Gino Simone, who has earned more playing time recently with strong play, said he is optimistic about the second half of the season.

One major step would be to qualify for a bowl game, he said.

``That's huge,'' he said. ``We want to get the program back to where it is in bowl games every year.''

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: John Wall goes 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, celebrity softball and the Summer League

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, John Wall went 1-on-1 to talk Bryce Harper's future, the celebrity softball game and the Summer League.

Chase Hughes and Chris Miller broke down the parallels between Wall and Harper and why Wall has chosen to stay loyal to Washington in his own contract decisions. Plus, can the Wizards really tone down the talking this season?

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Outside linebackers

Redskins Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope.

Between now and the start of camp, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Additions: Pernell McPhee (free agent)
Departures: Junior Galette (free agent)

Starters: Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith
Other roster locks: Ryan Anderson, McPhee
On the bubble: Pete Robertson

How the outside linebackers compare

To the rest of the NFL: By any measure, the Redskins had a top-10 pass rush last year. They were tied for seventh with 42 sacks and they got a sack on 7.3 percent of pass attempts, also seventh in the league. Looking forward to this year, Pro Football Focus has them ranked as the sixth-best pass rushing team for 2018. Ryan Kerrigan is showing no signs of slowing down as he approaches age 30 and Preston Smith is about to hit his prime. After the departure of Galette, the depth is questionable, and we’ll deal with that next. Even without Galette, it’s still one of the best units in the NFL. 

To the 2017 Redskins: Some downplay the decision to let Galette walk in free agency, saying he had just three sacks. But his value went beyond that. He had 9 QB hits and 25 hurries, both second-most on the team, in just 258 pass rush snaps. Someone will have to step up and replace that pressure. The spotlight will be on Anderson, who had no sacks after being a second-round pick. He will need to step up for this year’s Redskins pass rush to be as good as last year’s. 

2018 outside linebacker outlook

Biggest upside: Since the 2015 season, only one NFL player has at least 20 sacks, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions and it’s Preston Smith. His consistency is an issue but even when he is going for a few weeks between sacks he is getting pressure on the quarterback. Still, there is more ability there. Smith could set himself up for a big payday by breaking through with a double-digit sack season while continuing to make big plays in his contract year.

Most to prove: To be fair, Anderson did not get a whole lot of chances to rush the passer last year, playing just 81 pass rush snaps. Still, there are reasons to be concerned about how much he can produce after a zero-sack, one-hit, three-hurries 2017 debut season. Anderson was not expected to make a splash as a rookie, but more was anticipated. He was drafted where he was in part because of his work ethic. The Redskins hope he will work his way into a significant second-year leap. 

Rookie watch: There are no rookie outside linebackers on the roster. 

Bottom line: The main concern about the Redskins’ defense this year revolves around the cornerback spot following the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland. The best way to manage problematic cornerbacks is by getting a strong pass rush. The Redskins need to Smith to have a true breakout season and for Anderson or McPhee to be a strong contributor off the bench. Along with the improved defensive line, the pass rush could transform the defensive line into a quality unit in 2018. 

2018 Redskins Position Outlook Series