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Farley takes long route to BCS title game

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Farley takes long route to BCS title game

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) Matthias Farley's path to the BCS title game is far from conventional.

He'll start at safety for top-ranked Notre Dame on Monday night, when the Fighting Irish take on No. 2 Alabama to decide this season's college football national champion.

That notion would have seemed impossible four years ago.

It didn't even look all that likely even four months ago. Yet here he is, a rookie in terms of playing defense, set to potentially take on a huge role in the BCS title game.

``He's a great player and he's done a great job so far,'' said Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta, who starts alongside Farley. ``I wouldn't expect anything less. His preparation and how he's approached that transition, I think it's been great. He's definitely accepted the challenge.''

And that challenge was a daunting one.

To fully understand why Farley's role has been such a key for Notre Dame this season, the calendar would have to be flipped back four years to when he decided to give up soccer and play football - for the first time. He went from the pitch to the pigskin as a high school junior, wound up catching 74 passes for more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns in his two seasons at that level, and was part of Brian Kelly's first full recruiting class with the Fighting Irish.

Once he got to Notre Dame, however, he just couldn't get on the field as a receiver.

So he switched to safety. And then starter Jamoris Slaughter was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. Farley was put in the lineup and never looked back.

``He's not afraid of anything, any challenge,'' Kelly said. ``If you ask him if he's got a tape of Portuguese, he'll learn Portuguese. You know what I mean? There's nothing that he looks at and says, `I can't do this.' He's got so much pride and so much confidence in himself that any task that you ask him to do, he's going to find a way.''

Against Alabama, Farley will need to do just that.

The Crimson Tide has thrown for 27 touchdowns this season and averages 38.5 points per game. Notre Dame's scoring defense leads the nation, allowing only 10.3 points per game (a mere 0.4 points better than Alabama's defense).

``Having people like Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter there to get guidance from, to get advice from, they have all been huge parts of my development,'' said Farley, who also credited assistant coaches Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks. ``And then just putting in the work myself, actually wanting to go meet with coaches after and see what I can work on and all that kind of stuff. A lot of it is just having great people around me to help develop me.''

Then again, some of it is simply personal commitment as well.

Farley broke his right hand on Oct. 27 in Notre Dame's win against Oklahoma. An injury like that could keep someone sidelined for many weeks.

Farley didn't even miss many days.

Broke the hand on Saturday, had surgery to insert two plates and six screws on the following Tuesday, practiced the next day and played that weekend against Pittsburgh - the game in which the Irish needed three overtimes before keeping the undefeated season and national-title hopes alive with a 29-26 win.

And Kelly said Farley played a big role in that.

``The kid broke his hand, had surgery and played the same week,'' Kelly said. ``Now the first half, he didn't play very well because he was still thinking about his hand. He was challenged at halftime and came back and played great football in the second half. He's just a special kid that when you challenge him he's going to come through for you.''

That seems to be a trend in the Notre Dame secondary.

The majority of the group seems to be converted receivers, like Farley. He had some growing pains this season - he got beaten for what should have been a long early touchdown for Miami in their game in October, but caught a break when the ball was dropped. Yet the Irish say he got better every week.

``Having been on offense, you can kind of think of how the receiver thinks,'' Farley said. ``But you don't necessarily know where they're going to go.''

Seems kind of fitting, since four years ago, Farley had no idea he'd be going to the BCS title game.

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Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind. contributed to this story.

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

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:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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