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Giants respect Spagnuolo defense, despite ranking

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Giants respect Spagnuolo defense, despite ranking

METAIRIE, La. (AP) The New York Giants know better than to underestimate a Steve Spagnuolo defense, even one that currently ranks at the bottom of the NFL.

When the Saints' defensive coordinator was in New York, the Giants not only won a Super Bowl, but they saw how Spagnuolo could adapt when things went wrong and improve his unit over time.

``He can adjust. He makes a lot of game adjustments and that's the thing I remember from him being here,'' Giants guard Kevin Boothe said this week as New York prepared to host New Orleans this Sunday. ``It's going to be a tough challenge. They are a team starting to play well on defense and they have a lot of great players.''

The Saints brought in Spagnuolo to replace Gregg Williams last January because Spagnuolo had a record of success as a defensive coordinator. When he was with the Giants in 2007, they upset previously unbeaten New England in the Super Bowl on the strength of a dominant defensive performance that slowed Tom Brady and a Patriots offense that set scoring records.

Incidentally, that same Giants defense was torched for 80 points through its first two regular season games, both losses.

This season had a disastrous beginning as the Saints started 0-4, and seven games into the season, following a loss at Denver, New Orleans' defense had given up more than 500 yards in a game three times.

The Saints are still on pace to give up more yards in a season than any defense in NFL history, but now they also have a realistic chance of avoiding that dubious distinction.

The defense held Atlanta to 283 yards, the Falcons' second-lowest total this season, last week. Atlanta had a stretch of five consecutive possessions without a first down.

That marked the second straight game New Orleans defense yielded fewer than 400 yards after not keeping opponents below that threshold in any of its first 10 games.

The Saints still lost their past two games, but arguably because of Drew Brees being in a recent slump in which he has thrown seven interceptions, with two returned for TDs in a 31-21 loss to San Francisco. In Atlanta, the Saints defense held the Falcons to 23 points and kept New Orleans in the game despite Brees' five turnovers.

Citing the recent losses, Spagnuolo balked when asked if he felt vindicated by the way his unit has come around.

``I don't go down that road, quite honestly, because there is still a lot of season to go. If you rest on any laurels, I get concerned you're going to go backward,'' Spagnuolo said. ``Is it better than it was before? Yeah, but it's not exactly where we want it.''

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, was more complimentary.

``The last four weeks we played pretty damn good defense. Last week was probably one of our best defensive performances of the year,'' Vitt said. ``Spags has done a great job of keeping this team together. Spags has done a great job of keeping the morale of our defense at a high level. He's done an outstanding job of being patient teaching this defense and I think it's starting to show now.''

The statistics say the Saints give up 440.5 yards a game, worst in the NFL, and 27.3 points per game, ranked 28th.

Eli Manning and the Giants' offense see those numbers as misleading.

``They do a good job of trying to show some different looks, some different blitz looks. They try to get hits on the quarterback so it's an aggressive style of football,'' Manning said. ``We have to play smart and make sure everybody knows their assignments and knows who is blocking whom.''

Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Spagnuolo's balance of pressure and pass coverage makes for ``a well-thought-out, well-conceived approach to defensive football.''

Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said it took a while for players to feel comfortable in Spagnuolo's new scheme, and that Spagnuolo also adjusted his approach to suit the strengths of his personnel. Now when he looks at the film, it just doesn't look to him like he plays for the last-ranked defense in the NFL.

``We're playing pretty darn well,'' said Jordan, who leads the Saints in sacks with seven.

Jordan's shifting role is an example of one of Spagnuolo's adjustments. The Saints experimented with playing Jordan inside on pass-rushing downs early in the year, but lately have kept him more on the end after seeing he had most of his success there.

``We needed time to adjust,'' Jordan said. ``Any given defense you're going to have that where you just have to feel out the players and feel out what you want in your defense.''

Notes: Only two Saints players missed practice: T Charles Brown (right knee) and CB Corey White (left knee), but White says he was resting and hopes to play at New York. ... CB Johnny Patrick returned to practice from an illness that kept him out Wednesday.

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AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.

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Check out the names on the Wizards' Summer League training camp roster

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Check out the names on the Wizards' Summer League training camp roster

NBA Summer League is right around the corner. While the Washington Wizards continue a search for a new president, they do have one thing pinned down: the Summer League training camp roster.

The Wizards open Summer League play in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 6, when they take on No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Mini camp begins Tuesday and runs through Thursday. Players will participate in a two-hour practice each day.

Here is the training camp roster:

Noah Allen, G/F, Hawaii (Capital City Go-Go)
Armoni Brooke, G, Houston
Elijah Brown, G/F, Oregon (Grand Rapids Drive)
Troy Brown Jr., F, Oregon (Washington Wizards)
Dontay Caruthers, G, Buffalo
Troy Caupain Jr., G, Cincinnati (Orlando Magic)
Corey Davis, G, Houston
Dikembe Dixson, F, UIC (Capital City Go-Go)
Kellen Dunham, G, Butler (Capital City Go-Go)
John Egbunu, C, Florida
Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga
Vince Hunter, F, UTEP (AEK Athens Greece)
Garrison Mathews, G, Lipscomb
Tarik Phillip, G, Ukraine (Petrol Limpija Ukraine)
Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee
James Thompson IV, F/C, Eastern Michigan
Jeff Withey, C, Kansas (Lavrio B.C. Greece)
Tony Wroten, G, Washington (BC Kalev-Cramo Estonia)

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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