Huff excelling at cornerback for Raiders

Huff excelling at cornerback for Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) After a rough adjustment when he first made the move from safety to cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, Michael Huff is now starting to feel right at home at his new position.

Huff has provided lock-down coverage on the outside the past few weeks to bolster a banged-up secondary that has been missing both starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer because of injuries since midway through the second game of the season.

That led to the Raiders moving Huff from free safety, where he could survey the entire field, to cornerback, where his main responsibility was shutting down one receiver.

He has made quite the adjustment.

``It wasn't quick enough for me,'' Huff said. ``I had those couple of rough games early. I knew I'd go through some growing pains. I had never really played outside for a whole stretch. I knew I'd go through some growing pains and I'm starting to learn from them.''

After being picked apart for 12 catches on 17 attempts by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Denver's Peyton Manning in his first two games, according to game charting by Pro Football Focus, Huff has shown marked improvement since the bye week.

Atlanta's Matt Ryan went after him repeatedly three weeks ago, but Huff more than held his own, allowing five catches for 62 yards on 12 attempts. He also intercepted one pass and broke up three others as his increased confidence showed up on the field.

``I kid him all the time. I think he's a lot better corner than he is safety,'' Bartell said. ``I've been impressed with Huff. That's tough to ask a guy to do. He hasn't played a lick of corner all camp and all OTAs and then guys go down and he's able to go in in a pinch. He's gotten better every game, and he takes pride in it. I'm really impressed with him.''

Huff said going up against accomplished passers like Roethlisberger and Manning his first two games has paid dividends. He has had nearly airtight coverage the past two games.

According to Pro Football Focus, Huff has been in coverage for 84 snaps the past two weeks and allowed just one catch for 2 yards on seven throws his direction in that span.

``I'm not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, all right,'' coach Dennis Allen said. ``I don't think Willie Brown has anything to worry about yet. But he has improved. That's what we expect and that's what we will continue to expect, that every day he has an opportunity to go out and work he'll get a little bit better every week.''

Huff said he still tries to take in the entire formation before each play as he did as a safety, observing the alignment of receivers on the opposite side of the field for any clue about what type of play will be run.

But once the ball is snapped his vantage point changes and he is focused almost solely on the receiver he is responsible for and the quarterback.

Many players have made the opposite move that Huff did as they get older and no longer have the speed and athleticism to play on the outside. Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, who is playing the Raiders this week, made the switch this season after playing primarily cornerback his first 15 seasons.

``That's not a transition you see very often,'' Barber said. ``Actually, I can't think of any that have actually done it off the top of my head. He's a good enough athlete to play out there. I'm sure he's adjusting, but I think it's a lot easier transition to go from corner to safety.''

Whether Huff remains outside all season remains to be seen. Bartell practiced for the first time Wednesday since breaking his left shoulder blade in the season opener.

Bartell, who is on the short-term injured reserve list, worked with the scout team and is trying to get back into football shape after being sidelined for the past seven weeks. Bartell is first eligible to play on Nov. 11 against Baltimore. The Raiders have a 21-day window to activate him, put him on season-ending injured reserve or cut him.

``I'm good enough to play,'' Bartell said. ``The shoulder is not a concern. I just need to get back in shape and sharpen some things up and go from there.''

Oakland's other starting cornerback, Spencer, remains sidelined. He sprained his right foot in the second game of the season in Miami and initially targeted a return after the bye against Atlanta on Oct. 14. But he has yet to return to the practice field and it is uncertain when he will be able to play again.

NOTES: RT Khalif Barnes (groin) remains sidelined. DT Richard Seymour also did not practice to give his sore knees a rest. ... C Stefen Wisniewski (left ankle) and RB Mike Goodson (turf toe) practiced despite injuries in last week's game. ... LB Aaron Curry practiced again but Allen has not decided whether to activate him from the physically unable to perform list this week. ... The Raiders signed G Jason Foster to the practice squad to replace released DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.


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‘We DC family:’ After Nationals supported the Caps’ Cup run, Caps eager to return the favor

‘We DC family:’ After Nationals supported the Caps’ Cup run, Caps eager to return the favor

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Hockey games are obviously a lot different for Capitals players than it is for Capitals fans. When it comes to the Washington Nationals, however, the Caps are fans just like anybody else.

While the Caps are focused on the NHL season, they have also been keeping close tabs on the Nationals and their playoff run. Wilson was in the crowd at Nationals Park for Tuesday’s NLCS-clinching win.

“I was there for the first inning and it was loud, it was wild,” he said. “Balls dropping like that, it's crazy.”

It is not uncommon for local teams to support one another, but the bond between the Caps and Nationals seems to run much deeper than just geography.

“It's great,” Alex Ovechkin said. “Happy for team, for boys and for city. They fight hard and hope they going to win it all. We're going to cheer, we're going to be with them and wish them luck.”

As the Caps headed to Dallas for a quick two-game road trip early in October, all the players came to the plane wearing Nationals shirts to show their support. After each game, the team MVP is presented with a Nationals batting helmet in the locker room.

The roots of the relationship between these two teams can be traced back to their previous history of postseason failures.

A Caps team with superstar Alex Ovechkin and a loaded roster could never get past the Pittsburgh Penguins or the second round of the playoffs. The Nationals, meanwhile, suffered their own setbacks as they continually failed to advance past the NLDS despite a dominant rotation and strong lineup.

So as the Caps finally broke through in 2018 and went on a deep run, whether it was because they saw some of themselves in the Caps, it was cathartic to see a team from Washington actually win or because they just like hockey, the Nationals became the Caps’ biggest supporters.

That did not go unnoticed by the Capitals.

“You notice it for sure,” Wilson said. “I think I remember a tweet when I was in Vegas and I think [Max] Scherzer was pitching that game and he was commenting about not having to bat so he could check the score. You see that stuff, it's fun to share the times in D.C. together.”

Scherzer also took to Twitter the day after Washington won the Cup.

“Their support to us over the years has been awesome,” Wilson said. “A bunch of guys in that locker room that I have a ton of respect for.”

Of course when the Caps brought the Cup back to Washington, Nationals Park was one of their first stops. Ovechkin threw out the first pitch and the Nationals fans may have been outnumbered in their own ballpark by all the fans clad in Capitals gear.

The Caps’ win was seen as a turning point for D.C. sports, the moment the curse of Washington sports which had not seen a championship in hockey, baseball, football or basketball since 1992 was finally broken. Sure enough, the Washington Mystics won its first title in franchise history in 2019 and the Nationals are now the first baseball team from Washington to reach the World Series since 1933.

After overcoming the NLDS hump, it became impossible not to notice the similarities between the Nationals’ current run and the 2018 Caps.

“I think there's a bit of an up and down season and a group that really came together,” Wilson said. “I think you hear that out of their locker room a lot. Guys kept coming together throughout the year and wasn't always pretty and it wasn't always happy and fun, but perseverance and look where they are now. That's a special thing when a group of guys can come together and do what they've done. We had a similar thing. Each guy in the room, you wanted to win so badly for. You get a similar feeling as to how they talk about each other through the media and through what I've heard.”

“When any athletes in your town -- obviously the Mystics win a championship, the Nationals doing what they're doing, what we were able to do a couple years ago -- it just changes how everyone carries themselves around town,” Reirden said. “Sports are obviously a hobby for people to watch and a point of relaxation and it's been fun for everyone to kind of go through it. I think more importantly is probably how it's happened. It's not been a quick path and on any of our three teams involved so it's made it more special.”

But the job is not done.

The Nationals now must wait for a winner to emerge from the ALCS which currently stands with the Houston Astros leading the New York Yankees 2-1. Then it is on to the World Series.

One more series and four more wins separate the Nationals from the ultimate goal and you can bet the Caps are going to be cheering for them the whole way.

The Caps haven’t forgotten the support the Nationals gave them in the playoffs back in 2018. Now, they are ready to return the favor.

“It's a pretty cool time to be a sports fan in DC,” Wilson said. “We're just a tiny part of it, but we're taking a back seat. We're supporting them, we're hoping that they can get it done because once you get a taste of it, it's a lot of fun and they've got a bunch of great guys in that room that we're extremely happy for.”

“We D.C. family and we have to support each other,” Ovechkin said, “Doesn't matter it's Nationals, Redskins, Wizards or the Mystics. We respect everybody and we respect each team and we cheering for them.”


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Bradley Beal's new contract a big win for Wizards revamped front office

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Bradley Beal's new contract a big win for Wizards revamped front office

What was the most uncertain part of the Wizards' future is now clear, as All-Star shooting guard Bradley Beal has agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $72 million to remain in Washington through at least the 2021-22 season with a player option for 2022-23, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed. He and the Wizards came to terms just four days before the deadline to do so was set to pass.

The news comes as a bit of a surprise, as most believed Beal would wait to potentially make more money down the road. He could have bet on himself to make All-NBA this season and earned a supermax contract. But this decision gives him financial security through his Age 29 season with the ability to reset in free agency. With the player option, he can line up for a lucrative deal in just three years.

As Adrian Wojnarowski noted in his initial ESPN report, Beal could earn a deal worth $266 million over five years if he declines his player option, as he will then have 10 years of NBA service under his belt. If he opts to leave in free agency in the summer of 2022, he could still net a contract worth $198 million over four years with another team.

So, either way Beal will get paid and this contract solidifies his commitment to Washington and their plan to build around him. It also likely disappoints a handful of teams around the NBA that saw Beal as an enticing trade target. The Wizards continued to deflect offers this summer even with general manager Tommy Sheppard saying publicly they wouldn't deal him.

The Wizards can now breathe easy for at least another year when it comes to Beal. If they let the deadline pass, next summer would have forced a tough decision with him being one year away from free agency. Washington may have had no choice but to trade him or else risk losing him for nothing the following summer.

It is not the way most predicted it would go, but then again the Wizards have been able to buck league trends in this regard consistently in recent years. In an age where NBA stars move from team to team, the Wizards have been able to keep their own All-Star players happy and re-sign them over and over.

They signed John Wall to a max contract and then a supermax deal. And this is Beal's third contract with the team, the second time he has decided to re-sign.

That just doesn't happen around the league. Even when the collective bargaining agreement creates incentives for players to stay, where they have to forgo tens of millions of dollars to leave their original teams, many guys still run for the exits.

The Wizards, though, have been different in the way they have been able to build strong relationships with their stars to the point where they want to stay, in this case even with the team more likely to finish outside of the playoff picture this season than not. Beal wants to win, but he has clearly been sold on the team's long-term vision and is willing to apply the necessary patience to see it through.

Whether you agree with the decision to keep Beal or not, Sheppard and the Wizards' front office deserves a good deal of credit. They successfully convinced a star in his prime to do something very few of his peers would likely do if given the same choice.

Keeping Beal and Wall has also been a departure from the team's history. The Wizards at one point not long ago were known for developing star players only to let them go and watch them win elsewhere. It happened with Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace. Three of them teamed up to win an NBA title in Detroit.

Now, with Beal's future more secure, the tone of the Wizards' season will change. The results may not be different at all, but any potential distraction of whether he will want to leave has been eliminated, or least tabled for another date.

Wizards fans may not have expected this, but Beal isn't going anywhere anytime soon.