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Injuries mount up for No. 13 Sooners on front line

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Injuries mount up for No. 13 Sooners on front line

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) When Ty Darlington arrived on Oklahoma's campus this fall, he got to work learning the center position behind the team's most experienced lineman and an all-conference performer who'd filled in there last season.

That Darlington started for the Sooners (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) in a 42-34 win against Baylor on Saturday was a sign of how many injuries the offensive line has absorbed this season.

Darlington learned that he'd be starting through a text Thursday from starter Gabe Ikard, who had shifted from guard to fill in when 30-game starter Ben Habern gave up football at the start of training camp because of lingering problems from back and neck injuries. Ikard won all-Big 12 honors last season when he started out at guard and then shifted over to replace Habern during the season.

The Sooners also lost guard Tyler Evans, right behind Habern with 29 career starts, to a season-ending knee injury in the first week of training camp and have had guard Adam Shead and tackle Lane Johnson play through balky ankles.

``It's been tough on us, just having to respond and just coming back to practice every week and getting better when we're a little banged up,'' Darlington said. ``But I think we're doing well with it.''

With its makeshift offensive line, Oklahoma compiled 460 total yards with 183 rushing against Baylor's worst-in-the-nation defense. Quarterback Landry Jones was sacked once, the 13th sack allowed this season. The Sooners had allowed a Bowl Subdivision-best four sacks after nine games last season, but Jones isn't complaining with all his protectors have gone through.

``You can't say enough about the job that Ty did and the offensive line. He did a great job of calling everything out, directing traffic up there and those guys did a great job of keeping me clean (Saturday) night,'' Jones said. ``That one sack, I held onto the ball a little bit longer than I should have.

``All in all, the offensive line did a great job.''

Johnson, the starting left tackle, played on just five of 12 drives - two in each half, plus the kneel-downs at the end of the game. Shead limped off the field in the fourth quarter after hurting his right ankle, but he didn't miss a snap.

``A lot of people went down. There's a lot of shuffling going on,'' Darlington said.

It's apparently been even more amplified behind closed doors at practice. Darlington said right tackle Daryl Williams worked a lot at guard to allow Bronson Irwin time off to deal with his own injuries, and field-goal snapper Austin Woods also ate up some repetitions to keep others fresh.

Though Ikard was unable to practice, he was involved in getting Darlington up to speed for his first career start. Ex-center Jon Cooper, now a student assistant after a stint in the NFL, stayed after practice to work with Darlington and helped him out in the film room.

``Gabe was like my personal coach for the week because he wasn't even dressed out a couple of days. He was coaching me up on every little thing, giving me tips on how to block this or that and asking me some questions about IDs and everything,'' Darlington said.

Oklahoma's coaches had said during training camp that Darlington stood a chance to play this season but no one could have anticipated him playing every snap in a game. Still, he did all he could to be ready.

``Doing some of the stuff off the field I think is very important: doing the preparation, watching film and studying your play sheets and everything. I think that's the first step, and then just working hard in practice and just pushing it,'' said Darlington, who's from Apopka, Fla.

``I've got a good background from high school, my dad being a coach and everything. I came in ready to play mentally and physically, I worked very hard before I got here to get big enough and strong enough to be able to play.''

Toward the end of the week, he played a bigger role in meetings and had to go through a quiz from coaches to make sure he knew his stuff.

``This is what I've dreamed of doing. I've wanted to come in here and be an Oklahoma Sooner for a long time,'' Darlington said. ``I've gotten to play in other games but not meaningful playing time and definitely not starting. So, I was a little bit nervous but I think it was more just being excited, just being excited to play.''

About the only snags were a pair of illegal snap penalties against Darlington, who said he had trouble hearing Jones and quarterback Blake Bell and ``hitched'' the ball too soon. Neither one proved costly, with the Sooners scoring touchdowns on both drives.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said some adjustments were made to the Sooners' run protection schemes to make sure Darlington wasn't isolated.

``I thought Ty Darlington in at center did an awesome job, from what I could tell. He was clean in there. The overall line play was really good, so he must have had a good game,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ``I'm proud of him to handle the situation like he did as a true freshman. Really pretty special.''

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

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Need to Know: Redskins player one-liners, defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, May 22, 66 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins player one-liners, defense

A few weeks ago, I did an early projection of the Redskins’ 53-man roster on offense and defense. As the team gets ready for OTAs here is a comment on each player expected to make the team on defense; the offense was up yesterday

Defensive line

—Even though he played just 159 snaps last year before getting injured, the experience that Jonathan Allen gained in the offseason and training camp last year will help him get off to a strong start this season. 

—​Daron Payne will improve as the season goes on but he should be of some help stopping the run, the team’s most glaring weakness, right off the bat. 

—​Matt Ioannidis could play his way into an early contract extension a year from now, something nobody saw coming a year ago. 

—Last year Anthony Lanier played a little over half a season’s worth of snaps and got 5.0 sacks so I’ll put his over/under for this year at 7.5. 

—I think many fans see “Redskins veteran free agent D-lineman” and associate “bust” but Stacy McGee played pretty well last year. 

—Will Tim Settle be in at nose tackle for the first snap in Week 1?

—The coaches would like to be able to keep Ziggy Hood on the roster, but injuries and other issues could make him a victim of the roster numbers game. 

Inside linebackers

—​Zach Brown struggled a bit before injuries forced him out of the last three games, but he still finished in the top 10 in the NFL in tackles. 

—The team re-signing Mason Foster in late January was a low-key but potentially very impactful move. 

—After getting cut and then returning in November last year, Zach Vigil probably will be employed with the Redskins for all of the 2018 season. 

—It will be interesting to see how much the Redskins try to get out of converted safety Josh Harvey-Clemons as a nickel linebacker this year. 

—The Redskins moved up in the sixth round to draft Shaun Dion Hamilton, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a regular role on defense before the season is out. 

Outside linebackers

—All Preston Smith needs to do to hit it big in free agency is add a few sacks to his 2017 total and get a few more takeaways. 

—​Ryan Kerrigan already got paid, he’s a few more good years away from making the Redskins Ring of Fame. 

—I predict that Ryan Anderson gets his first NFL sack in Week 2 against the Colts. 

—You usually think of outside linebackers rotating in when it’s the nickel defense, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Pernell McPhee be a regular in short-yardage situations. 

Cornerbacks

—I think Josh Norman will the dancing in the end zone at some point this season; he is long overdue to get a pick six (or a pick of any sort for that matter).

—The first time I noticed Quinton Dunbar playing cornerback was when he lined up against Odell Beckham in 2015. 

—The success of the Redskins’ decisions to trade Kendall Fuller and to let Bashaud Breeland leave as a free agent will hinge mostly on how well Fabian Moreau plays in his second year in the NFL.

—Realistically, the Redskins can hope to get 10 or 12 good games out of Orlando Scandrick

—And because Scandrick is unlikely to be healthy for 16 games, the ability of Josh Holsey to step in when needed will be critical. 

—If the Redskins can get a few good punt returns and 75 snaps at nickel corner from Greg Stroman he will be worth the seventh-round pick they used to draft him. 

Safeties

—With a year in the defense under his belt, D.J. Swearinger is a candidate to make his first Pro Bowl. 

—After Jay Gruden compared him to Jordan Reed, there is a lot of pressure on Montae Nicholson to stay on the field and perform well when he is out there. 

—Even though he started eight games last year I think the coaches view Deshazor Everett as more of a special teams guy and situational defender than a safety they want playing 70 snaps a game. 

—​Troy Apke has a lot to learn and it remains to be seen if he can go from being a fast guy to being a fast NFL football player.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 21
—Training camp starts (7/26) 66
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 80

The Redskins last played a game 142 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 110 days. 

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