Wizards

Johnson, Gamecocks seeking to restore momentum

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Johnson, Gamecocks seeking to restore momentum

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina center T.J. Johnson says the Gamecocks are ready to wipe away the problems of the last two weeks.

Johnson has a good handle on the team's attitude.

He will start his 48th game, more than anyone in school history, when No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) takes on Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) this Saturday. Johnson has watched the team go from a middle-of-the-pack SEC team to challenger for the league title since he arrived before the 2008 season.

Still, he's as upset as anyone about the Gamecocks' two-game slide that dropped them from national championship contender to trying to restore momentum after a 6-0 start.

``We've had a lot of missed assignments and I take that as kind of my fault,'' he said. ``I've got to do more in helping people get ready and that's what we're working toward this week.''

Johnson was not the most highly sought offensive lineman coming out of Aynor who picked the Gamecocks over schools like Vanderbilt, Duke and North Carolina State. Once the 6-foot-6, 319 pound Johnson got in the lineup, though, it was hard to get him out. When he makes his first snap Saturday, he'll have surpassed the school mark for starts held by defensive end Cliff Matthews.

``I'm very thankful. I've been blessed that I've been somewhat healthy my whole career here,'' he said.

The Gamecocks will need Johnson's experience to rebound after dropping top-10 matchups at LSU (23-21) and at Florida (44-11) the past two weeks.

South Carolina lost its shot at a national crown - the Gamecocks were ranked No. 3 two weeks ago - when it lost at Death Valley. The team gave up its chances at an SEC East title when it fell to division rival Florida at The Swamp.

The Gamecocks, though, have plenty to fight for, starting this week when they can win their third in a row over Tennessee, something that's never happened before in a series first played in 1903.

``We still got a lot to fight for and that's what we're going to do,'' Johnson said.

South Carolina is seeking to gets its offense back on track. Star tailback Marcus Lattimore gained 35 yards at LSU and came out of the game with a bruised hip that limited him against Florida. Lattimore got just three carries last week and Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said he held his junior runner out once the game got out of hand.

``We thought it'd be smart to rest him for another day, to rest him for the next battle,'' Spurrier said. ``That's coming up Saturday, and he should be ready to go.''

Spurrier also said quarterback Connor Shaw will go the whole way unless he gets hurt. Shaw was pulled at halftime last week for Dylan Thompson with the Gamecocks trailing 21-6.

Spurrier, who won a Heisman Trophy as Florida's quarterback and a national title as its coach, acknowledged he was upset at how poorly his offense played at his old stomping grounds. That's past, Spurrier said, and he's ready to focus on the positives, like Johnson's longevity mark.

``We haven't had much good to talk about lately,'' Spurrier said. ``So that's neat he's started more games here than anybody.''

The Vols have gone through an SEC gauntlet of their own this season. They've lost all their league games against ranked opponents who are a combined 27-1 this season and will hope to avoid a second-straight 0-5 SEC start under Derek Dooley.

The grind is wearing on all league teams, says Tennessee center James Stone.

``We're all going through the same thing. I guess this game's going to really show who's able to play through it and who's able to strain through,'' he said.

Stone and the Vols offensive line will have their hands full with South Carolina's sack squad led by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. This is truly a showdown of elite units: The Gamecocks lead the SEC with 29 sacks while Tennessee has allowed three sacks all season.

Dooley worries the losses have sapped his team's spirit two months into the season. He said the defense has struggled and the offense hasn't been strong enough to overcome that.

``That is the way it is,'' he said.

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 22, 34 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins stock watch: Three up, three down

For some Redskins players, the outlook looks much brighter now than it did when last season ended. Others have seen their stocks decline. Here is a look at three players in each category.

Stock up

CB Quinton Dunbar—His rise started the day after the season ended when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It continued when the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland opened up more opportunity at his position. Then the only additions at corner were veteran Orlando Scandrick and seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. Dunbar has a clear path to a starting job, perhaps for the next few years. 

G Shawn Lauvao—At the end of the season, he was coming off of injured reserve. It was the second time in his four seasons in Washington that he finished the season on the sideline. He turned 30 last year and as the prime weeks of free agency passed he didn’t get much attention. His fortunes started to turn when the team didn’t sign or draft a guard. Then on May 4 when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. Shortly after that Arie Kouandjio, his primary competition at left guard, was lost for the season with a quad injury. While there is no guarantee that the Redskins won’t look at other options at left guard, for right now it’s Lauvao’s job to lose. 

S Montae Nicholson—It was hard to make much out of his rookie 2017 season as he spent half of it on the sideline with injuries. But early in the offseason, Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was as important to the defense as Jordan Reed is to the offense. Given that Reed has made one Pro Bowl on his resume and could get more if he stays healthy and that his presence on the field tends to lift his teammates, that’s high praise. It means that Nicholson is at the top of the depth chart in Sharpie. He still needs to stay healthy but he is not a player who is at risk of losing his job due to an injury. 

Stock down

RB Rob Kelley—This one of pretty obvious. He finished the year on injured reserve and a couple of the running backs signed as injury replacements, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall, looked pretty good. Then came the draft and Derrius Guice as the second-round pick. Right now, he looks like the No. 4 back and he will have to fight hard to keep a roster spot. 

DL Ziggy Hood—Most expected the Redskins to draft a nose tackle early and that’s what happened when they took Daron Payne in the first round. That didn’t hurt Hood’s stock much. But they followed up by taking Tim Settle later in the draft and that made the depth chart very crowded. Hood is the seventh D-lineman and they usually only keep six. Even if he makes it he could spend a lot of time on the game-day inactive list. 

S Deshazor Everett—Nobody expected the Redskins to draft a safety, but they found the speed and athleticism of Troy Apke too attractive to turn down in the fourth round of the draft. The rookie needs some work on his game, so it appears that Everett, who started eight games last year, will be the first safety off of the bench early in the season. But it’s likely that they will want to get Apke in games as soon as he’s ready and that could leave Everett on the bench. 

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 

Former Redskins Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey was born on this date in 1978. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 34
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 48
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 71

The Redskins last played a game 173 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 79 days. 

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