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Improving run defense key for Raiders

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Improving run defense key for Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) With their offense still struggling to score, the Oakland Raiders have relied on a defense that has been surprisingly stout against the run this season.

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who has never been part of a top 10 defense in his nine NFL seasons, expects even more.

The Raiders (3-4) have allowed 55 yards rushing or fewer in three of their past five games and are giving up an average of 102.1 yards rushing.

That's good for 11th in the NFL and is a marked difference from 2011 when opponents rushed for 136.1 yards per game against Oakland.

Two weeks ago, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew suffered a foot injury on the Jaguars' first play from scrimmage.

The following game against Atlanta, the Falcons didn't run much because quarterback Matt Ryan was having so much success throwing the ball.

For a team trying to get back into contention in the AFC West, it might not be pretty but it has been effective.

``We always have a game or two where we play good run defense, but the key is just to keep it up,'' Kelly said Friday. ``We have to put some games together. I'd rather us be playing better run defense in December. As long as we don't go back to how we looked against Miami, I'm fine.''

The Dolphins ran for 263 yards against the Raiders in Week 2, leading to criticism over the defense being run by rookie coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.

However in the five games since, Oakland has given up 420 yards rushing - an 84.0 yard average.

The critics have gone silent. For now.

``If you play hard and you get 11 guys flying around to the football, it makes up for somebody that might be out of a gap,'' Allen said. ``You've got to have gap discipline, and that comes back to the players, and the players have done a nice job of maintaining their responsibility and doing what they're supposed to do on most every play.''

The previous time the Raiders were this good against the run? That was in 2002 - the last year they made the playoffs.

Over the past nine seasons, Oakland has routinely been among the league's worst run defenses. The high-water mark came in 2004 when the Raiders ranked 21st. Twice, in `03 and `08, they finished last.

With a new defensive staff this year, Oakland got off to a slow start but picked up the pace considerably over the past month as the players became more comfortable in the system.

Kelly isn't surprised by the turnaround.

``As the weeks go by you're knowing the calls better,'' Kelly said. ``The thinking (has) kind of gone away. Everybody's weaving themselves into the defense.''

Keeping that momentum going could be a challenge for the Raiders against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Bucs running back Doug Martin is coming off a record-setting performance against Minnesota when he became the first NFL rookie in 25 years to rush for at least 135 yards and have another 75 yards in receptions in one game. Overall, Martin is sixth in the NFC with 543 yards and a 4.2 per carry average.

Tampa Bay has also gotten improved play out of quarterback Josh Freeman, who has thrown for three touchdowns in each of his past three games.

But the Bucs will be without Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks, who was placed on injured reserve with a toe injury earlier this week. That bodes well for Oakland, which is trying to get to .500 for the first time this season after getting off to a 1-4 start.

``I guess everybody honed in a little tighter,'' Kelly said. ``Everybody focused a little tighter, everybody crossed their little T's and everything. The defense is coming together. I just hope we keep getting better.''

Despite the improvements against the run, Oakland has only 10 sacks this season. Only two players, defensive tackle Richard Seymour and defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, have more than one.

``They're wounded and they're coming into our place ... we need to take advantage of the situation,'' Kelly said. ``They haven't gave up as many sacks but at the same time from what I see on film, (opponents) get pressure on (Freeman).''

Notes: Sunday's game will be televised locally, though some tickets remain available. The Raiders had received a 24-hour extension from the NFL to avoid the blackout. ... Allen said he's not ready to decide whether to add LB Aaron Curry to the 53-man roster. Curry, who was on the physically unable to perform list at the start of the season, has a roster exemption that ends Nov. 7. ... DT Richard Seymour was fined $15,750 by the NFL for roughing Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel last week.

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.

But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?

NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2016

26th overall pick (first round): Traded

The St. Louis Blues elected to trade up in the draft sending Washington a first and giving back their third-round pick which the Blues acquired as part of the package for T.J. Oshie. St. Louis used the pick for forward Tage Thompson who ended up playing 41 games for the Blues in the 2017-18 season. St. Louis ultimately traded him away to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the package that got them the now Conn Smythe-winning Ryan O’Reilly.

28th overall pick (first round): Lucas Johansen D

This Caps moved only two spots back in the trade with St. Louis and selected Johansen, a talented but undersized defenseman. Johansen has spent the last two seasons in Hershey. He has added some size, but that no longer is the biggest concern with his play. Despite being a talented puck-mover, Johansen seems uncomfortable with the puck on his stick, almost jumpy. Getting a quick first pass off is an important skill to start breakouts, but it does not appear like he makes quick, smart decisions up the ice, he is just trying to get the puck off his stick quickly whenever it gets close which leads to some bad decisions. Some of this could be due to the upper-body injury that forced him to miss significant time this past season. Either way, he desperately needs to learn to be more comfortable with the puck.

If you take away the puck-moving skills, then you just have an undersized defenseman. He needs to get the puck skills back if he hopes to make it to the NHL.

57th overall pick (second round): Traded

Washington traded this pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2016 as part of the package to get Brooks Laich’s contract off the books. The Leafs used the pick on forward Carl Grundstrom who Toronto sent to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the package to land defenseman Jake Muzzin.

Grundstrom ended up playing in 15 games with the Kings with five goals and an assist so he is definitely a player to watch heading into next season.

87th overall pick (third round): Garret Pilon F

This was the pick attached to the first-round pick St. Louis swapped with the Caps to move up. Washington used it to select Pilon, son of former NHLer Rich Pilon.

Pilon had a strong WHL career with Kamloops and Everett and was impressive in his first season in Hershey with 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games. He has potential as a third-line NHLer, maybe second line but that would be a real reach. He has a great hockey IQ. You can see the plays he is trying to make on the ice, he just can’t always finish the job whether it is getting a cross-ice pass over to an open teammate after drawing the defense to himself or getting enough power behind a shot from a high-danger area. Another year in the AHL to hone his skills and he should have a real shot of making the jump to the NHL.

117th overall pick (fourth round): Damien Riat F

Riat has yet to make the jump from Europe to North America, but Swiss Hockey News reports that he will participate in development camp and training camp for the Caps this year.

145th overall pick (fifth round): Beck Malenstyn F

When the Caps packaged Laich with Connor Carrick and a second-round pick, they did not just receive cap relief. They also got Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick. Washington turned that pick into Malenstyn.

Malenstyn has a solid mix of skill and physical play that led Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery to declare, “he’s our Tom Wilson.”

Now let’s temper expectations here. While Malenstyn may play a similar role for the Bears as Wilson does for the Caps, do not take that to mean Malenstyn is a top-six NHL forward. He’s not. He scored seven goals and nine assists in his first professional season, but the way he was able to have an impact on the ice is certainly impressive. There is some potential here for him to be an NHL fourth-liner.

147th overall pick (fifth round): Axel Jonsson-Fjallby F

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and is a similar type of player as Carl Hagelin. He is not going to light up the scoresheet, but his speed always makes him a threat and he can be a strong, bottom-six player and penalty killer at the NHL level.

I thought there was a legitimate chance he could compete for the Caps this year if Hagelin left. Hagelin, however, is back for another four years. That’s not to say it is time to move on from him, just that there was room for Jonsson-Fjallby to be a Hagelin replacement and now he can go back to Hershey and work on his game and adjusting to the North American style of play. That’s good news for Washington since Jonsson-Fjallby chose to go back to Sweden early last season and has only 16 games of North American experience.

177th overall pick (sixth round): Chase Priskie D

Priskie just wrapped up a fantastic college career at Quinnipiac where he won a national title, was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and scored 17 goals and 22 assists in his senior season…as a defenseman.

Unfortunately for Washington, since Priskie just wrapped up his fourth season in college he is eligible to become a free agent in August if he does not sign with the Caps before then. Priskie informed management in April that he would not sign with the team and that he intended to become a free agent. Priskie is a right-shot, puck-moving, offensive defenseman who would be a high-end third pair defenseman, but could also develop into a second-pair guy. His decision not to sign with Washington is a definite blow to the Caps and the pipeline.

207th overall pick (seventh round): Dmitriy Zaitsev D

After two seasons in the WHL, the Capitals chose not to sign Zaitsev to an entry-level contract prior to the 2018-19 season thus forfeiting his rights. He elected to return to his native Russia and split time over the season in the KHL, MHL, and VHL.

Takeaways

First the good news. The Caps found a lot of value in this draft. Past the second or third round, you are basically drafting lottery tickets and hoping your number gets called. I am not quite sure what to make of Riat, but besides him, Pilon, Jonsson-Fjallby, and Priskie all have NHL potential. Malenstyn could as well but may be a reach. Sure, these would all be depth guys, but that’s a lot of NHL potential in one draft.

Now on to the bad news. First, the defenseman with the highest upside is probably not their first-round pick, but Priskie and the Caps know they are going to lose him as a free agent. That is his right as written into the CBA so you cannot fault him for taking advantage. Having said that, it really stinks for the Caps who snagged him in the sixth round of the draft just to see him walk after showing off his potential.

Second, the Caps may have found a lot of potential NHLers in this draft, but if they miss on Johansen, was this draft a bust for them? That is not to say Johansen is a bust or that he will never live up to expectations as a top-four defenseman. But if he does not learn to be more comfortable with the puck and learn the difference between quick thinking and panicked reaction, he is not going to make it to the NHL. At this point, it looks like he will need another year in Hershey and if he does not improve, then it is time to wonder whether he has a future at all.

How do you evaluate this draft if you find value in the later rounds—which is extremely hard to do—and miss on your first-round pick? It’s a tough question to answer.

 

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Premier League Roundup: Everton parting ways with captain Phil Jagielka

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Premier League Roundup: Everton parting ways with captain Phil Jagielka

Premier League teams are making grandiose plans for the upcoming 2019-20 season. For Everton, those plans are coming with a new captain as Phil Jagielka will leave the team after 12 years in Goodison.

Here's the latest news about the Premier League:

Player Notes

Burnley: Goalkeeper Tom Heaton rejected a contract extension from the club after a strong second half to the season. Coming off a dislocated shoulder injury a year ago, Heaton looks to be fielding options elsewhere. 

Chelsea: It was widely reported that defender Antonio Rudiger could miss the start of the 2019-20 season as he continues to recover from knee surgery. There were no complications with his procedure but that the club has no intention of rushing him back.

Everton: Two of the Toffees defenders, Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, will leave the team after their contracts expire this summer. Jagielka has been the team's captain since 2013 and played in 386 games for Everton. 

Arsenal: Defender Hector Bellerin will miss the start of the 2019-20 campaign as he continues his recovery from a serious knee injury.

Arsenal: Goalkeeper David Ospina is signed on a permanent transfer after a successful year-long loan from Arsenal.

Source: Rotoworld

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