Dominant defense is way of life at Alabama, LSU

Dominant defense is way of life at Alabama, LSU

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) When Eric Reid arrived at LSU, the older players made one thing clear:

He was expected to contribute right away on defense. There was to be no drop-off from the guys who came before him.

Now, he passes it on.

``We tell the freshmen the exact same thing,'' said Reid, a junior safety and one of the leaders of the Tigers' defense. ``We don't want them to use youth as an excuse. You come to practice, practice hard and get the job done.''

The same could be said of top-ranked Alabama.

After last season, the Crimson Tide had six players off its national championship defense - considered one of the best in college football history - selected in the NFL draft. Three of them went in the first round. Another was taken early in the second.

For most programs, that sort of exodus would have led to a major rebuilding job. Not at Alabama (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference), which again leads the nation in all four of the major defensive categories, seemingly just as dominant as it was with players such as Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick.

``I'm not really surprised,'' said one of the replacements, linebacker C.J. Mosley. ``Great players left last year, but we had players that could fill their roles. So far, we're getting the job done. It's all about communication because we've got the athletes and we've got the players who can play with anybody in the nation.''

Defense isn't just a vital part of the game for these two schools.

It's who they are.

It's why they seem to meet every year with so much on the line.

This year is no exception. Alabama will travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday night for what is essentially a playoff game in the national championship race. The winner will have the inside track to a spot in the SEC title game, which has become a routine conduit to the BCS finale.

Despite plenty of inconsistency on offense, LSU (7-1, 3-1) is right in the thick of things again largely because of its defense. While not quite as dominant statistically as Alabama, the Tigers are certainly in the same ballpark, ranking in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, total yards, rushing yards and passing yards.

``It's a tradition that was established long before we got here,'' said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, the team's leading tackler. ``It's fundamental here. It's what we do. We play hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth defense. Both teams do.''

Like Alabama, LSU lost a number of top defensive players off last year's unit, which carried the Tigers all the way to the national championship game before they lost to the Crimson Tide 21-0.

Cornerback Morris Claiborne and defensive tackle Michael Brockers were both selected in the first round of the NFL draft, while safety Brandon Taylor went in the third. Then, the Tigers lost perhaps their most dominant player on either side of the line, cornerback and Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu. The Honey Badger was reportedly kicked off the team for several failed drug tests, and he's spending the year away from the field, trying to get his life in order.

Despite those heavy losses, especially in the secondary, there hasn't been much of a slide. LSU ranks fourth in the nation, allowing just 148.5 yards per game through the air. Tharold Simon and freshman Jalen Mills have filled those big shoes at cornerback, each coming up with a pair of interceptions. LSU ranks eighth nationally with 13 picks as team.

``Their secondary still looks good,'' Alabama receiver Kenny Bell said. ``They still have a good defense. I feel like this is going to be the one of the best defenses we've gone against all year. We've just got to keep working hard ... and get better so we can be able to execute against this defense. Because, you know, they are good. Their front four is very good and their secondary is real good.''

When you consider that Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron hasn't thrown an interception all season, the play of LSU's secondary becomes even more important. In last year's regular-season victory at Tuscaloosa, a 9-6 slugfest, Reid came up with a huge pick right at the goal line. The Tigers would like nothing better than a repeat Saturday night.

``Hopefully we can force him to make a bad throw and see if we can get an interception,'' Reid said. ``That definitely would be nice. It would give us some momentum for our offense.''

LSU's offense needs all the help it can get. In two meetings last season, the Tigers never got to the end zone against the Crimson Tide. It looks like they're facing another daunting challenge.

Robert Lester has three interceptions, and five other players have two. Mosley is the closer in the middle of coach Nick Saban's 3-4 defense, leading the team with 65 tackles. Ed Stinson spends a lot of time in opposing backfields, leading the team with 7.5 tackles behind the line.

Saban, along with defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, gets a bulk of the credit for assembling a defensive scheme that isn't that far off from the pros are doing. LSU has its own defensive guru, coordinator John Chavis, the man they call ``Chief'' and a must on any list of the nation's top assistant coaches.

``I feel like it's great coaching,'' Minter said. ``Bama obviously has great coaches with Saban and Kirby over there. I've always admired them. We have Chief over here. They're all great at developing talent. Both teams always find a way to reload, regardless of who leaves.''


AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.


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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

There won’t be a Tim Connelly reunion with the Washington Wizards after all.

Connelly passed on the opportunity to become the Wizards President of Basketball Operations, and instead will remain in the same capacity with the Denver Nuggets, a source confirms to NBC Sports Washington. ESPN first reported on Connelly's decision.

Washington received permission to meet with Connelly late Thursday evening. He left the NBA Combine in Chicago and flew to Washington Friday for a discussion with Leonsis, a source told NBC Sports Washington. On Friday, Connelly reportedly received the offer to fill the front office vacancy created by the firing of Ernie Grunfeld on April 2.

While the interest in the Wizards was genuine from the Baltimore native, Catholic University alum and former member of Washington's front office, Connelly could not leave the "stable" situation with significant promise in Denver, a source told NBC Sports Washington.  

Connelly, 41, was named Denver’s general manager in 2013. The Nuggets won 54 games and finished the 2018-19 regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The roster, headlined by All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, is the second-youngest in the NBA. "Tough to give that up," the source said. "Too much to risk."

The Wizards are coming off a polar opposite campaign that ended with a 32-50 record. Significant uncertainty exists going forward with five-time All-Star John Wall expected to miss a large chunk of the 2019-20 season as his four-year, $170 million supermax contract extension kicks in.

Leonsis began a deliberative search process for a new President of Basketball Operations after dismissing Grunfeld, who held the position for 16 years.  While other candidates were interviewed during the process, including interim GM Tommy Sheppard, Connelly’s name was linked to the opening almost from the start.

Connelly considered Leonsis' handling of the discussions first class, according to a source.

Sheppard, former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver are the other known primary candidates.

In April, NBC Sports Washington first reported Connelly considered the Wizards his “dream job,” according to sources. The Catholic University alum began his NBA career as an intern with Washington in 1996 before holding various full-time front office positions under Grunfeld. He left for New Orleans in 2010.

The Wizards face significant challenges before re-entering contention in the Eastern Conference. With Wall injured, two-time All-Star Bradley Beal is the only healthy returning starter. 2018 first round pick Troy Brown Jr. is the only other valued long-term asset beyond the ninth overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft,

More than half of last season’s roster is entering some form of free agency. Washington could have limited salary cap space depending on which players return.

The situation requires the kind of roster-shaping creativity Connelly demonstrated in Denver. The Wizards now must look elsewhere for their new front office leader.


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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

Kick off your Monday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including the full 90-man roster heading into the beginning of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. Ravens OTAs begin Monday.

2. With the return of Pernell McPhee and the addition of Shane Ray, it's clear that the Ravens are searching for the right pass rushers for their defense. The two veterans join draft pick Jaylon Ferguson in the quest to create a dynamic defense.

3. Marquise Brown is expected to miss OTAs due to continued rehab on his foot from Lisfranc surgery. However, Brown is expected to be ready by the start of training camp in August.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.