Capitals

First-place Eagles have to improve kick coverage

First-place Eagles have to improve kick coverage

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Alex Henery's kickoffs frequently don't reach the end zone, making it imperative for the Philadelphia Eagles to improve their coverage.

David Wilson nearly broke loose for a touchdown a few times against the Eagles in Philadelphia's 19-17 win over the New York Giants last Sunday night. Wilson averaged 36.2 yards on six returns, including ones of 48, 45 and 53 yards.

That led the Eagles (3-1) to make some changes on special teams. Brian Rolle, a second-year linebacker who started several games last year, was released. He was replaced by linebacker Adrian Moten, who could see action against Pittsburgh (1-2) on Sunday.

``He's definitely a tough, young scrapper,'' special teams coordinator Bobby April said. ``He looks like one of those guys in Rocky III when Rocky comes in all Dapper Dan and the guys drop their gloves from punching the bag and they're stripped down, ready to rumble. He's kind of got that attitude.''

Moten played in 12 games for Indianapolis and Seattle as a rookie last year and spent training camp with the Eagles before he was let go on the final roster cut. He's eager to make his mark on special teams.

``I showed I'd give it my all when I was here,'' he said. ``I'm going to come in wanting to play special teams a lot. I know that's the biggest thing they brought me in for, but you never know how the NFL goes. It's a business, so you never know. I could be playing linebacker one week. You never know. So, I'll come in and do whatever they need me to do.''

The Eagles are hoping the addition of Moten coupled with the return of special teams ace Colt Anderson does the trick on coverage. It also will help when linebacker Akeem Jordan, another special teams standout, returns from injury. Philadelphia is ranked next-to-last in kickoff coverage, allowing 27.1 yards per return.

``Special teams is just an attitude and we've got to get the right attitude,'' Anderson said. ``We've got to have confidence in what we're doing and we're going to get that fixed.''

Moten is all about attitude.

``I'm going to be a ball hawk,'' he said. ``Go get the ball.''

It certainly would help if Henery boomed his kickoffs into the end zone. But he's last in the league with a 22.2 touchback percentage (4 of 18). Still, Eagles coach Andy Reid wouldn't pin the blame for the coverage problems against the Giants solely on Henery.

``Well, a couple of the kickoffs were a bit short,'' Reid said. ``Hang time is important, but we had guys in position around that 25-yard line at the catch. So, you've got to make sure that you work the right techniques, have the right scheme, right techniques. We should be OK and the kicker's got to do his job, too. But I wouldn't say that that was the No. 1 thing, no.''

April pointed the finger at himself for not giving Henery enough preparation on kickoffs going into the game last week. The Eagles had a unique situation because they signed a new punter, Mat McBriar, and had to practice with a new long snapper because Jon Dorenbos was injured. McBriar is the also the holder so April emphasized the snap and hold last week.

``I didn't do the right thing in training him,'' April said. ``He was off a little bit in his steps and he didn't do as many full length kickoffs as he normally does. He is still delegated the responsibility of going to kick the ball well. He's not getting the pass on this. We did so many field goals last week because we had a new snapper and a new holder. I really wanted his leg to be as spry as it could be for game day. We cut back a little bit on his kickoffs.

``That was a miscalculation on my part.''

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NOTES: Jordan (hamstring) won't play against the Steelers. Anderson (knee), LT King Dunlap (hamstring) and DT Derek Landri (knee) are questionable. Reid wouldn't say whether Dunlap or Demetress Bell would start. Bell has started the past two games after losing his job following the first preseason game.

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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