Capitals

Dolphins' Pouncey has friendly rivalry with twin

Dolphins' Pouncey has friendly rivalry with twin

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey records and watches all of the Pittsburgh Steelers' games to study their All-Pro center, and visits with him on the phone every day, trading tips and talking trash.

Sometimes they remark on their similar styles of play, which is really no surprise. After all, they're identical twins.

Maurkice Pouncey was born a few minutes after Mike but made it to the NFL first, turning pro in 2010. Mike was drafted by the Dolphins last year and is now bidding to overtake his brother as the best center in the family - and the league.

``I just try to trademark his game,'' Mike said. ``He set the bar for our family in the NFL. I'm just trying to be the player he is.''

By all accounts Mike is closing the gap, even though this is only his third season as a center. Maurkice said his brother has turned the sibling rivalry into a close contest.

``It's awesome to watch,'' Maurkice said. ``I need to pick it up, man. He has been balling.''

The Dolphins agree. First-year coach Joe Philbin raved after the season opener about the 6-foot-5, 303-pound Mike Pouncey's agility and ability to block linebackers by reaching the so-called second level.

``He did some things that I haven't seen a linemen do in this league in a long time,'' Philbin said.

As Pouncey approaches the halfway point in his second NFL season, the Dolphins are increasingly confident he'll anchor their offensive line for years to come.

The team's blocking has improved considerably this season, which is one reason Miami (3-3) takes a two-game winning streak into Sunday's road game against the New York Jets (3-4). Sacks allowed are down dramatically, while running back Reggie Bush is on pace for his second successive 1,000-yard season.

In both cases, teammates and coaches give Pouncey credit as a leader of the line.

``He's playing very well,'' Philbin said. ``He does an excellent job of getting the group going. I think football is important to him. He brings a lot of passion and juice to the locker room, to the practice field and to the game.''

Like Maurkice, Mike Pouncey was a first-round draft choice -and taken three picks earlier than his brother at No. 15 overall. Mike won the starting job as a rookie in training camp, and quickly showed he had finally found a home at center.

Mike played running back and tight end in Little League, then was a left tackle in high school on state championship teams at Lakeland, Fla. At the University of Florida he started six games at defensive tackle as a freshman, then switched to right guard for two seasons, and as a senior he replaced his brother at center.

Despite his success, he misses carrying the ball the way he did as a kid.

``I feel like I should be playing another position,'' he said with a grin. ``I'm very athletic, and when I do get to the second level, I do feel like I dominate. I'm good on my feet.''

He's good in the locker room, too, where his jovial personality is a plus during the long grind of an NFL season.

``He's always keeping the atmosphere just really fun and light, and he's always joking around,'' Bush said. ``He's a guy that works hard and he's always challenging the rest of the team with his style of play. It's good to have a guy like that, especially at center.''

While Pouncey shares a bond with teammates, especially the other linemen, he remains closest to his brother. Since childhood they've been best friends and each other's biggest fan.

``When we get out of practice, we always call each other, and the first thing we ask each other is how was our day and how'd you do in practice,'' Mike said. ``I watch him on film and I'm like, `Man, do you ever miss a block?' He says the same thing. We want each other to be the best.''

Maurkice has made the Pro Bowl each of his first two seasons and was chosen All-Pro last year. He figures that with Mike's improvement, there's room for two Pounceys on this year's AFC Pro Bowl roster.

"That's the plan, man,'' Maurkice said. ``He's coming up pretty fast.''

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AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

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Ranking the 2018 Redskins Roster: Revealing 31-53

<< Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53. >>

At NBCSportsWashington.com, we projected the Redskins’ 53-man roster (offensedefense) right after minicamp. Now we are taking it one step further and ranking the 53 players we think will make the team.

The rankings are determined by who we think will have the most impact on the 2018 Redskins. No consideration was given for past performance or for what a particular player might do down the road. We’ll be revealing the rankings between now and the start of training camp. 

Today we’re starting up the list with the players we ranked from 31-53, Here are some of the players in our latest update:

—Seven of the team’s draft picks, including the pick they made last week.     

—All three specialists.

—The team’s leading rusher from 2017.   

Go here to see our ranking of the 2018 Redskins, players 31-53