Wizards

Holliday makes fast impact for Broncos

201211041355501010862-p2.jpeg

Holliday makes fast impact for Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The linebacker sprawled out and barely got a hand on Trindon Holliday.

Not enough of a hand.

Eight seconds later, Holliday was gone. The NFL's shortest - and quite possibly fastest - player says he has never been caught from behind and it didn't come close to happening last Sunday, either. The 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Cincinnati went down as the longest play in Broncos history.

``After I broke the first wave, and then I saw that one of my guys had made a block on the kicker, I just pushed it to the outside and that was it,'' Holliday said.

This was, actually, the fourth time the 5-foot-5 Holliday had returned a kick for a score this year. The first three came in the preseason with the Houston Texans, which is why the second-year player made the team.

But when the regular season started, Houston struggled in its return game. It is currently ranked last in the NFL in kickoff returns. Holliday's lack of versatility - at 5-5, he can't really be an effective receiver - didn't help his cause, and on Oct. 10, the Texans had to cut ties with their sixth-round draft pick from 2011.

``By no means is it a statement that what we thought of Trindon,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said on the day they cut him.

The Broncos, still in the hunt for a bona fide returner after losing Eddie Royal to free agency in the offseason, knew about Holliday because they had prepared to play the Texans in September. They decided to take a chance.

``When he became available, I think our personnel department did a great job of putting in a claim and we were fortunate enough to get him,'' coach John Fox said. ``I think he'll just continue to get better as we move forward, whether it's punts or kicks.''

Make no mistake, there is room for improvement.

The first time Holliday touched the ball for the Broncos, a teammate blocked an opponent into his line of vision and Holliday muffed a punt, which led to a field goal for San Diego. That was the game in which the Chargers took a 24-0 lead but the Broncos rallied for the win.

Only a few minutes after Holliday's big return against the Bengals last Sunday, he and Lance Ball got crossed up on a kickoff that bounced at the 3-yard line and checked up. The Broncos started that drive from their 1.

``It was poor judgment on that one,'' Holliday said.

Excusable, however, especially considering the way he can change a game.

``He's obviously got some explosive capabilities,'' Peyton Manning said.

As a college recruit, Holliday's 40 times were so fast - he once cracked 4.3 in high-top basketball shoes - that stories circulated of coaches recalibrating their stopwatches to make sure they were reading things right.

In 2007, Holliday finished second in the 100 meters to Tyson Gay at U.S. track and field championships. He could have gone to world championships, but instead chose to attend LSU, where he returned four kicks for touchdowns and won the NCAA title at 100 meters in 2009.

His winning time at NCAAs, 10 seconds flat, made him the fastest player to ever play college football - faster than Willie Gault, Herschel Walker and ``Bullet'' Bob Hayes, the receiver who gets much of the credit for forcing NFL defenses to start playing zone.

Players with that kind of speed almost always get a chance if they decide to go the football route, and instead of pursuing a track career, Holliday tried for the NFL.

Among the problems return specialists face these days, however, is a drastically reduced number of opportunities.

In an attempt to reduce injuries caused by players sprinting the full length of the field on special teams, the NFL moved kickoffs up five yards at the start of 2011.

That year, the number of kickoffs returned in the league fell from 2,033 to 1,375 - by 32 percent, according to STATS LLC. Halfway through 2012, the league in on pace for 1,292 returns.

Not surprisingly, the number of game-changing kickoff returns, and returners, has decreased dramatically, as well. There were 23 kickoff returns for touchdowns and 57 others into opponents' territory in 2010 but only nine TDs and 27 across the 50 in 2011. Holliday's was the seventh return for a touchdown in 2012, as the season reaches its halfway point.

The 105-yard sprint was Holliday's first NFL touchdown.

``I think it can come in bunches,'' he said.

The Carolina Panthers are next, Sunday in Charlotte.

``He's a guy we liked and looked at at one time, too,'' Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. ``But when he was on the waiver wire, we didn't have room and I think Denver did a nice job. He's shown he was explosive last week. And now I've got an upset stomach having to worry about him, as well.''

Notes: WR Eric Decker (thigh) was limited in practice. He joined WRs Brandon Stokley (knee) and Demaryius Thomas (knee) on the injury report, though Stokley and Thomas each participated fully. ... CB Tracy Porter missed practice for medical reasons related to seizures he had during the summer. ... LB Von Miller needs half a sack to tie DEs Elvis Dumervil and Rulon Jones for the most (21) by a Bronco over his first two seasons.

Quick Links

Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

kelly_olynyk_game_winner_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Five observations from Wizards' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, as Kelly Olynyk steals the game

The Washington Wizards opened their 2018-19 regular season with a 113-112 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday night. Here are five observations from the game...

Olynyk does it again: A ghost from the Wizards' past returned on Thursday night to spoil the season opener in Washington, a game that up until very late seemed destined to go their way. The Wizards got several key stops late in the fourth quarter, but failed to box out Kelly Olynyk, who reeled in a Dwyane Wade miss and dropped in a go-ahead layup with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Olynyk had been booed all night by Wizards fans every time he touched the ball. Though he has changed teams, they still remember his dustup with Kelly Oubre Jr. back in the 2017 playoffs when he was with the Celtics. Olynyk heard it all night, but ended up sealing the win. Man, what a gut punch for the Wizards to start the season off.

Wall looked good: He may be wearing a headband and sporting a new hairstyle, but the John Wall who showed up on Thursday night to carve up the Heat defense looked awfully familiar. It was a version of him we didn't see much of last year in what amounted to a lost season due to missed games and injury-hampered play.

Wall looked a lot like the All-NBA force we saw two years ago when he put up career numbers and had the Wizards on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. Against Miami, he got to the rim with little to no resistance and collected 18 points in the first half alone. He finished with 26 points, nine assists, three rebounds, three blocks and one steal. He shot 9-for-16 from the field.

One of the most intriguing parts of this season as it pertains to Wall is the potential he has with Dwight Howard, who in theory should make things a lot easier for him as a lob-devouring pick-and-roll monster. But Wall showed vs. the Heat he has the same spark we have seen over the years, the electric driving ability that was missing for so much of last season. 

He can create his own offense whenever he wants to. Imagine when he has Howard's help setting screens and drawing attention in the paint.

No Howard: Howard was a gametime decision and the Wizards ultimately made the call to sit him out. They say he's feeling great and getting better, but just hasn't had enough practice time to jump into the regular season line of fire.

It seems like Howard is very close and could be ready on Saturday when the Wizards host the Raptors. If not, he will still travel with the Wizards on their five-game road trip through the Western Conference.

With Howard out, head coach Scott Brooks appears to have more trust in Jason Smith to be the backup center rather than Thomas Bryant. Though he did go small with Markieff Morris or Jeff Green at center, that was only after Smith got into foul trouble.

Howard's absence was seen especially in the rebounding category. The Heat beat the Wizards on the glass 55 to 40 and Miami had 22 offensive boards. Though we haven't seen Howard in action with the Wizards, it's a safe bet they would have done better rebounding the ball with him on the floor.

Foul troubles: Howard's absence was compounded by key Wizards players racking fouls at an accelerated rate. Ian Mahinmi, who started for Howard, got his fourth just 15 seconds into the second half. By the end of the third quarter, Morris, Jason Smith and Bradley Beal also had four fouls by the end of the third quarter. Beal finished with five. 

All in all, it was a physical game between the teams, one that included a confrontation in the third quarter between Wall and Derrick Jones Jr. that resulted in a technical foul for Wall. It all started when Smith and Hassan Whiteside got tangled up on the floor. Wall came over and gave Jones a shove and some words to follow.

That play likely would have resulted in a technical foul last year as well, but it's worth noting the league has expanded its definition of 'hostile acts.' That type of stuff will not fly at all anymore. 

It was an interesting chicken-or-the-egg situation on Thursday because the quick whistles definitely contributed to some frustration between the teams.

Otto still deferred: Much of the talk about Otto Porter Jr. in recent years has been the need for him to shoot more often. He's the most efficient player on the Wizards, yet is the clear No. 3 option in the offense. That chatter reached a new level this preseason as Brooks joked to Wizards beat writers that they have permission to yell at Porter if he doesn't shoot.

So far, it was much of the same for Wizards swingman. He took seven shots in the game and only had three at halftime. Two of those came on the same play, as he missed a layup and then sank the putback. Porter didn't attempt a single three and had only nine points.

The Wizards want Porter to take more shots than he did last season (11.5 FGA/g), but it won't be easy. Keep in mind he posted that number when Wall missed 41 games and with Marcin Gortat as the center. Howard didn't play in this one, but when he returns he is going to expect more shots than Gortat was used to.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

NBA, G League to offer $125,000 contracts to elite prospects

usatsi_11465756.jpg
USA Today Sports

NBA, G League to offer $125,000 contracts to elite prospects

The G League will begin offering "select contracts" worth $125,000 next year to elite prospects who are not yet eligible for the NBA, a move that could slightly lessen the handful of one-and-done players at the college level.

There is no determination yet on how players will be identified as potential targets for such a contract. The G League said Thursday that it is establishing a working group to develop that process and other criteria, and that there will be no cap on how many players could be signed to a select deal.

"We recognize that talent assessment is inherently subjective," G League President Malcolm Turner said. "But as the name would suggest, this working group will be charged with identifying the relevant pool of players who may be offered a select contract. It's not as if any player can unilaterally raise their hand and dictate that they will join the league playing under a select contract."

Players will be eligible to sign the select deal if they turn 18 by Sept. 15 prior to the season that they would spend in the G League. The move follows recommendations released earlier this year by the Commission on College Basketball, a group that was chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was tasked with reforming the college game.

The commission report said "elite high school players with NBA prospects ... should not be `forced' to attend college."

Turner said the move addresses that concern.

"We've tried to answer the basketball community's call for an alternative in a timely and thoughtful way," Turner said.

Players who receive the select contracts all will become eligible for the NBA draft the following year. Their rights would not be retained by an NBA club beforehand, no matter which G League affiliate they wind up with.

Under current rules, players are not eligible to enter the NBA draft until they are a year removed from high school -- though that is expected to change through an amendment to the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players in time for the 2022 draft.

The G League has allowed 18-year-old players in the past, but never before under any elite designation.

While it is apparent there are still details to be ironed out -- such as how these select players will be allocated to G League teams -- NCAA President Mark Emmert said he appreciates the G League's plan.

"Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many," Emmert said. "However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball."

And this could put the G League and some big-name NCAA programs on a collision course.

Players can sign letters of intent to play for a Division I school in the 2019-20 season starting next month, and there's nothing to suggest that some of the top recruits -- whether they've signed or not -- won't consider going to the G League for $125,000 instead of college next season. That means the potential is there for some awkward situations if a player signs with a school, and later backs out of that commitment to turn pro.

The G League's working group is expected to be formed and functioning within the next couple of weeks, but it's unclear when the process of players contacting the league and vice versa will begin. It is expected that there will be an advisory council to tell athletes who contact the G League about their potential eligibility for a select deal, much like how college football players can ask about their potential NFL draft status.

"There might be some collision points, but our role and what we intend to do is educate and inform the marketplace," Turner said. "We're also not going to be targeting those who have already made their decisions."

Earlier this year, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James called the NCAA model "corrupt" and said he would suggest to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver a plan to expand the G League and turn it into more of a farm system with an eye on truly preparing young talent for the NBA.

"As the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league," James said in February, when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. "And if kids feel like they don't want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time."

Through the first two nights of this NBA season, 35 rookies -- most of them having left college early -- made their debuts. Of the 35, only five scored more than 10 points in their first game.

 

MORE G LEAGUE NEWS: