Nationals

Jets' Tebow, K-State's Klein lead parallel lives

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Jets' Tebow, K-State's Klein lead parallel lives

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) They've never met, never even talked, but they'd probably be best of friends.

Both of them were home schooled, both are rooted deeply in their Christian faith. Both were standout prep players who overcame funky throwing motions to develop into bruising, run-first quarterbacks for two of college football's most accomplished coaches.

All that Collin Klein needs to do now is lead No. 3 Kansas State to a national championship, stop by the Best Buy Theater in New York to accept the Heisman Trophy along the way, and the comparisons to former Florida star and current Jets backup Tim Tebow may never end.

``I've never met him and I've barely ever heard him speak, but watching him, you can see his team believes in him,'' Tebow said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``He has great leadership, great poise, awesome competitive excellence and he's a winner. At the end of games and in big situations in games, he always comes through. That's an awesome trait.''

It's one of the traits that defined Tebow's career with the Gators.

Just like Klein, who has developed under the sagely wisdom of Bill Snyder, Tebow leaned on the guidance of Urban Meyer to become one of the sports' most dynamic players.

Tebow served as a change-of-pace backup to Chris Leak his freshman season, when the Gators won the national title, but followed it up with one of the most statistically impressive seasons in the history of major college ball.

Tebow threw for 3,286 yards, completed 66.9 percent of his passes, and had 32 touchdown passes with only six interceptions. But it was on the ground where he truly set himself apart, running for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns with the kind of power usually found in a fullback.

He wound up taking home the Heisman Trophy over Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.

Looking back, Tebow recognizes the similarities between the 2007 season he put together - and the two after that - with the senior season that Klein is having in the Flint Hills.

He's on pace to throw for 2,649 yards with 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season, and would finish with 1,030 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground.

Numbers quite similar to Tebow's Heisman season.

``I've gotten to see a lot of him last year to this year. I'm a huge college football fan, so I watch all the time, and I love watching what they do,'' Tebow said. ``I've watched their offensive film, seeing some of the stuff they do, some of the read-option and short yardage stuff they do, goal-line plays, and seeing how he handles that. He does a great job.''

Tebow is so enamored of Klein that's made it a point to watch the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) whenever he can, dissecting the performance by what could be his doppelganger.

Case in point: Kansas State's gutsy victory at Iowa State earlier this season.

Tebow can recall specific plays that Klein made down the stretch.

``He needed to make a play on third-and-11, the rush came and he broke free and ran, broke a tackle and scored a touchdown,'' Tebow said. ``That was a huge play where most people might say, `Oh, he just ran into the end zone.' No, if they get stopped there, they go up by six or something and Iowa State might go down and win the game. You never know. But he kind of sealed the deal.''

Klein brushes off the similarities to Tebow, though he's acknowledged many times that he's appreciative of the comparisons - more so for the values that Tebow represents off the field than his jaw-dropping performances on it.

Tebow's missionary work, particularly in the Philippines, is well known.

``I think I'm very blessed that God has provided my upbringing in a way that I had parents and coaches that invested in me, and provided a foundation to understand what's really important, and success is fleeting in this world,'' Klein said. ``There's bigger things at stake.''

Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett said Klein's work ethic is what sets him apart.

``He's a very good practice player,'' Klein said. ``He works in every area, whether it's in his throwing, in his vision, in his running, just calling the plays, reading defenses. He's a student of the game, and when he comes out on the field, we trust whatever he does.''

That trust is a big reason why Snyder, much like Meyer with Tebow, has turned over a large amount of control of the Kansas State offense.

``He understands his responsibilities,'' Snyder said, ``and how he needs to handle them.''

Snyder has praised Klein for remaining even-keeled, even as the Wildcats barrel toward a spot in the BCS title game. They're No. 2 in the standings heading into Saturday's game against Oklahoma State, and then have three more games left to polish off the school's first undefeated season.

Then it's up to the voters and computers to decide whether it's been good enough.

One thing is certain: Klein has been plenty good enough.

``Hearing that he does it the right way, it's awesome, because he's going to have so many kids looking up to him in Kansas who want to be the next Collin Klein,'' Tebow said. ``That's more important than what he's doing on the field right now.''

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AP Sports Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report.

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

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Mike Rizzo on how the Nationals plan to approach the nearing trade deadline

With the MLB trade deadline only two weeks away, Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo expects the team to be more focused on acquiring players than trading away any - and that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon, whose contract expires at the end of season.

"Obviously, we’re always listening and we’re always talking to people," Rizzo said on The Sports Junkies Wednesday. "But I don’t anticipate moving Anthony Rendon, no."

Rendon's contract extension of $18.8 million going into the 2018 season will expire at the end of this season, and while Rizzo and the Nationals have made it clear they are actively working to re-sign him, a deal has yet to be made.

Rendon's agent Scott Boras told NBC Sports Washington's Todd Dybas during the All-Star Break that he and the [Nationals team owners] Lerners have "always worked out things -- usually."

“There are times that they make decisions and we make decisions, and I think they’ve been very good decisions for all parties involved," Boras added at the time. "When they sit down and look at where their franchise is going, that’s a direction they have to give us. Obviously, they have to make those decisions. Rendon is a superstar and that is a major decision in their franchise. I don’t ask. I just go and prepare for our meetings and we talk and kind of listen to what they tell us they want to do. It’s really in their corner as to how we go from there.”

Rizzo told the Junkies that the Nationals plan to keep Rendon, though acknowledged the calls for him from other teams do keep coming in.

‘’[An offer] would have to be something that wouldn’t make sense for us to turn down and probably wouldn’t make sense for them to acquire," Rizzo said on trading Rendon.

Rizzo said the Nationals' front office is prepared to add some players to the roster.

"We’ve been most recently in acquire mode, because, you know, we’ve had the chance to win the last eight seasons and I think we're in that mode again," Rizzo said.

Though, of course, he wouldn't actually rule out making any trades that send some players out of DC.

"We're an aggressive front office, we're an aggressive ownership group, and if there’s a deal to be made that would help us prepare for meaningful games in September and beyond, we’ve shown in the past that we’re capable of doing that and we're not afraid to make a trade," he said.

The Nationals take on the Orioles for game 2 of the Battle of the Beltways Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. 

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role in Washington?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2.

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next four weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at one of the biggest questions on the team’s defense, can Nick Jensen handle a top-four role?

When the Caps acquired Jensen at the trade deadline and immediately re-signed him for four years, the implication was clear. Suddenly, Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit became expendable.

With the team expected to be hard up against the salary cap in the offseason, the salary would need to be moved. Sure enough, Niskanen was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Radko Gudas.

Gudas is a good pick up for the third-pair, but this trade is a move that only makes sense if you have a top-four defenseman to replace Niskanen on the right. Gudas, Jensen and John Carlson’s are the team’s three right-handed shots. Carlson is obviously cemented on the top pairing and Gudas is headed to the third. That leaves Jensen as the only real option on the second pair. After seeing him struggle since coming to Washington at the trade deadline, it is fair to be a little worried.

Jensen showed last season that he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL while with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch on opening night, but he made sure he was not scratched again by the Red Wings and averaged 20:48 of ice-time over 60 games before he was traded.

Sure, a lack of defensive depth helped, but Jensen’s play was what earned him that spot more than anything else and it is why Washington traded for him and re-signed him before he ever played a game for the Caps.

But when he got to Washington, Jensen started struggling. An in-season trade can often be difficult with players forced to adjust to a new team and new system. Jensen certainly will not be the last trade deadline acquisition to struggle to make that transition.

“I think there was a period of adjustment where coaches were asking him to play a different system in a different way than he’s played,” Brian MacLellan said at the team’s breakdown day. “The good games were really good, I thought. And the down games were him trying to figure out system stuff and individual stuff that they were wanting him to do on the ice.”

In Detroit, defensemen do not shift too much from side to side. The blueliners have their side and they skate straight up and down the ice. In Washington, however, defensemen are constantly switching sides during play and you are expected to cover whatever side you are on when the puck begins moving back down towards the defensive zone.

Jensen is a right-shot defenseman and was not at all comfortable playing on the left. That is not uncommon. There are a lot more left-shot defensemen than righties and often if you see a player playing his off-side, it is a lefty playing on the right. Righties just are not expected to play on the left all that often because there are fewer of them. For Jensen, even having to shift over to the left within a play proved difficult.

Carolina Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele used this to his advantage in a regular season game against Washington in which he turned Jensen inside-out.

When you watch closely, this play is less about the fancy stickwork of Foegele and more about a defenseman who does not look comfortable at all playing on the left.

It is important to clarify what we are talking about here. The Caps are not asking Jensen to be a left defenseman. That would not be a great situation and there would be no guarantee he would ever get to the point where he could be a top-four defenseman playing on his off-side. The team’s system simply allows for defensemen to cycle from side-to-side situationally. When the opposition transitions down the ice, you may not have the opportunity to switch back to your original side and are instead expected to defend that transition from whichever side you are on. This would largely apply to quick transitions. Adjusting to that is not at all impossible and Jensen’s ability to do so will be absolutely critical for the team’s success next season.

The Niskanen trade certainly looks like a shrewd move by MacLellan as it not only saved the team money, but also upgraded the bottom pair. The move only makes sense, however, if and only if it did not leave the team with a hole in the top-four. In that case, the team will have gotten worse defensively, not better.

With a full offseason and training camp to prepare, Jensen should look far more comfortable within the system. As last season’s camp with Detroit showed, he can be prone to slow starts, but we should know by Thanksgiving if Jensen is starting to feel at home with Washington or if the defense is in serious trouble.

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