Redskins

Irish get serious about preparing for Alabama

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Irish get serious about preparing for Alabama

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Top-ranked Notre Dame finally got down to the serious business of getting ready to play defending national champion Alabama in the BCS title game on Jan. 7.

After weeks of some players and coaches traveling the nation for award shows, players finishing up the school year with finals and making trips home for Christmas, Notre Dame had its hardest hitting practice Saturday since its 22-13 victory over USC on Nov. 24 in the regular-season finale. Kelly plans another physical practice Sunday.

The starting defense practiced against the starting offense some on Saturday.

``Just to keep the speed in the game. I don't want practices to slow down. When it becomes all scout team, it has a tendency to become a little bit slower pace,'' Kelly said.

Left guard Chris Watt said the Irish know they have to play physical against Alabama, which is giving up just 2.5 yards per rush. He said the Crimson Tide defensive linemen do a good job of getting their hands quickly inside on offensive linemen and getting off blocks.

``They all want to be first-rounders, so they're going to try to get to the ball and make plays,'' he said.

The Irish offense plans to play some up-tempo against Alabama (12-1), hoping to find some personnel advantages against the Crimson Tide and hope to cause some confusion on the defense. But Kelly said the problem against the Crimson Tide is there aren't any obvious weaknesses to exploit.

``There's not one of the 11 guys where you can go, `Let's go attack him,''' Kelly said. ``Where other weeks during the year we say, `All right, let's get No. 4.' There's not a guy in the 11 you can say, `We're going to do this.'''

The Irish also hope to spread the field against the Tide to try to overcome their size and athleticism.

``If you go in there and say, `All right, we're just going to play between the tackles,' you're in for a long day,'' Kelly said. ``We've got to be attacking all areas and getting the kind of matchups that we need offensively. Because we need to get big chunk plays, I'm just going to tell you right now. They know that. We know that.''

One of the weaknesses for the Irish this season has been special teams. While the Irish rank sixth in the nation in total defense and 49th in total offense, they are 38th in net punting, 79th in kickoff defense, 83rd in kickoff returns and 115th in punt returns. Kelly said depth has been one of the problems. But the Irish will use more starters on special teams against the Crimson Tide.

``Maybe we can catch lightning in a bottle on a return or get a block, something to that affect,'' Kelly said.

Kelly also said the Irish will have an early curfew when they arrive in Miami on Jan. 2. He said he usually has a 2 a.m. curfew the first night or two on bowl trips so players can have fun. He says the curfew in Miami will be 11 p.m. every night, saying the team is approaching it like a business trip.

``They all understand what it's all about going down to Miami. It's not about enjoying South Beach. This is about preparing for a national championship game,'' he said.

Right tackle Christian Lombard said the Irish understand.

``Just coming back with a mindset of it's business now. The fun is over,'' he said.

The Irish are seeking their first national championship since 1988. When asked whether he had any New Year's resolutions, Kelly joked: ``Coach a good game. Don't screw it up.''

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Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Dwayne Haskins played really well Sunday against the Eagles, and it wasn't just on certain drives or in specific situations. Haskins put together a complete and encouraging performance in Week 15, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.

But the Redskins' coaching staff, and most notably Kevin O'Connell, should be praised as well for setting Haskins up to shine versus Philly.

Here are three things O'Connell and the offense did at FedEx Field that contributed to the rookie's best effort as a pro.

They were more aggressive on early downs

The following two things are true: 1) Bill Callahan loves Adrian Peterson, and 2) Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at rushing for more than 1,000 yards this season. Because of those two facts, it felt like Sunday was setting up to be the Peterson Show, especially on first down.

It wasn't, though, and that greatly benefitted Haskins.

No. 7 found Terry McLaurin for a nine-yarder to start the contest, a throw that allowed the QB to settle into a nice rhythm from the start. The 75-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to McLaurin was also a first down toss, one that featured play-action:

A first down pass in the second quarter, meanwhile, led to a defensive pass interference that advanced the ball 14 yards. On that possession, Haskins would eventually find Steven Sims for a score. 

Throughout the matchup, the Burgundy and Gold seemed more comfortable with trusting Haskins to attack the Eagles, and that's something he very much enjoyed.

"I hope to continue to do it," he told reporters postgame.

They targeted Steven Sims a bunch

Want another example of O'Connell's influence over the gameplan? Look no further than how much Sims was involved.

Overall, Sims was targeted 11 times, and while he only hauled in five of those passes, he's a guy worth looking to often. O'Connell has talked for weeks now about how much he wants to use Sims, and while it may sound odd to say that an undrafted receiver from Kansas deserves lots of chances on a unit that includes McLaurin and Peterson, it's true.

He's really difficult for defensive backs to stay in front of and he's shown a penchant for making some tremendous grabs, including his toe-tapper for his first career receiving TD on Sunday.  

"I'm seeing everything and I'm playing faster," Sims said in the locker room. 

O'Connell and Haskins are seeing him, too, and his larger role is giving Haskins another weapon to rely on.

They introduced a creative option play

In addition to the uptick in aggressiveness, the Redskins also were more creative against the Eagles than they had been lately. The best example of that is the option they introduced and executed perfectly on two separate snaps.

On the first option, Haskins fake-tossed it to Peterson before lateraling it to him a second later. The fake from Haskins was a nifty way to buy more time for the play to develop and it set Peterson up to pick up a first down:

They went back to it again in the third quarter, but this time, Haskins kept the ball and cut upfield for a 23-yard gain:

Watch any NFL game on any weekend, and you'll see offenses trying new concepts and surprising defenses with those concepts. In Week 15, the Redskins were finally one of those offenses, and the group as a whole was the most effective its been under Haskins. And for that, both the player and the staff should be recognized.

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Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

The entire Donald Dell interview with Mark Lerner can be seen Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

For seven seasons, the Nationals and Bryce Harper enjoyed a happy marriage that included four NL East division titles, an MVP award and the respect from the rest of the league as legitimate playoff contenders year in and year out.

But principal managing owner Mark Lerner knew their relationship might not last forever. In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell, Lerner talked about how the team balanced making a business decision with the personal side of hoping to extend Harper when he hit free agency last offseason.

“We all like Bryce but at the end of the day, there’s the economic factor, there’s other factors that come into it: clubhouse, interaction with teammates, everything you could imagine in a decision about a free agent,” Lerner said.

Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which at the time was the record for the most expensive contract in MLB history. The Nationals reportedly made him an offer for 10 years and $300 million that included $100 million in deferrals at the end of the 2018 season.

“He [was] a free agent for a reason, he earned that right,” Lerner said. “It’s his decision and his family’s decision where they play. And he chose to move on. He obviously got an incredible offer.

“Everybody seems to forget it’s not just a bidding war to get the players, the player has to want to play here and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”

By the time Harper signed with Philadelphia in early March, the Nationals had already reported to Spring Training with starter Patrick Corbin signed to a six-year, $140 million deal as well as a slew of new faces on the roster that had joined the club through free agency. Lerner said Washington never heard back from Harper and didn’t want to wait for him to make a decision.

“We were moving down a different path at that point anyhow,” Lerner said. “Because, as you may recall, Bryce had not given us a response through his agent Scott Boras and we had decisions we had to make so we didn’t get caught waiting too long for him to find out we can’t get other players to replace him.

“And our choice at that point in time was either wait for him or we had the opportunity to sign Patrick Corbin. And we chose to sign Patrick Corbin and get another great starter, which has worked out great, and it was really more us at that point to say, ‘We have to move on.’”

The Nationals went on to win the World Series in 2019 while Harper posted an .882 OPS with 35 home runs in 157 games for the 81-81 Phillies. But as division rivals, Harper and the Nationals will see each other plenty over the next 12 years he’s locked into Philadelphia.

Only time will tell which side ends up wondering what could’ve been.

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