Capitals

Jones, Robiskie form tight bond with Falcons

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Jones, Robiskie form tight bond with Falcons

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Nearly every time Julio Jones reports to work, the second-year Atlanta receiver seeks out position coach Terry Robiskie.

Their ongoing dialogue started at training camp two years ago and hasn't let up.

Jones wouldn't have it any other way.

``Terry isn't going to sugarcoat anything,'' Jones said on Friday. ``If you mess up, you mess up, but he's going to show you how to correct it and what you need to look for.''

It's not hard to see why Jones credits Robiskie with helping him make the NFC Pro Bowl squad last month. On the sideline during games and at practice, Jones is likely standing next to his coach constantly to ask questions and get advice.

Their conversations are give-and-take, but both men say that it's never to the extent that Jones complains about being misunderstood.

Rather, Robiskie wants to know exactly what Jones sees before the snap and what his reason is for the technique he uses to create separation from a cornerback.

It's a formula that's worked well for the Falcons (13-3) heading into their divisional playoff game against Seattle (12-5) on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Jones, 23, has become the deep-ball threat that Atlanta needed before general manager Thomas Dimitroff traded up 21 spots to draft him sixth overall two years ago.

The numbers are impressive considering that only Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson have more catches of 25 yards or more than Jones' 27 since the start of last season.

This year, Jones leads the Falcons with 10 touchdown catches, and he and Roddy White comprised one of four two-man tandems to each have at least 1,000 yards receiving.

But the lessons keep on coming.

``Being as young as he is, he's still got to focus on the game plan - what's the call, where do I go coming out of the huddle, what direction do I go, what route do I have, do I go inside, do I go outside?'' Robiskie said.

``During the course of the ballgame with him, I've got to focus on the guy across from him and let him, `Here's what they're doing to defend you.' "

With 30-plus years of NFL coaching experience, Robiskie is rarely surprised by any move or decision Jones might attempt.

Their work on the field begins each day before practice starts as Robiskie puts the receivers through sideline and end-zone line drills. The purpose is for each receiver to keep his feet in bounds while trying to catch balls that Robiskie purposely throws slightly out of reach.

It's a drill Robiskie learned from his playing and assistant coaching days with Raiders owner Al Davis and one that he's used over the last 30-plus years of working in the NFL.

``I throw the ball near the line where they literally have to dive or reach out across the white (line),'' Robiskie said. ``They have to drag their feet while focusing on the ball. On the end line, I try to throw it high and in the back of the end zone. Their minds have to be on, `I've got to catch the ball and drag my feet.' "

Jones showed how the work has paid off three weeks ago at Detroit as he reached out to catch quarterback Matt Ryan's pass in the right corner of the end zone and dragged his right foot while clutching the ball against the left side of his chest.

The 16-yard catch against Lions cornerback Chris Houston gave the Falcons a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter, but Jones' athleticism was only part of play's success. It took long hours on the field for the technique to seem like second nature.

``Practice makes perfect, man,'' Jones said. ``You've got to continue to keep doing the little things so that it becomes easy to you when you're in the game. When you're in that situation, you don't even think twice about it.''

For Robiskie, it's fun to work with a ``coachable player like Julio.'' He says the three seasons that Jones spent at Alabama, helping coach Nick Saban win his first national title with the Crimson Tide four years ago, gave him the kind of humility that Robiskie values.

``By the same token, Roddy's been with me for five years now and even when I got here (in 2008), he felt that he had all the answers anyway,'' Robiskie said with a laugh. ``He already feels he's got it all unless someone jacks him up and chokes him a little bit. But I don't have to talk to him as much. With Julio, I have to talk to him all the time because I've still got to focus on what I need to do from this to this to this.''

Notes: DE John Abraham (ankle) was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as questionable for Sunday. ... Reserve S Charles Mitchell (calf) is also questionable. ... SS William Moore (hamstring) fully participated in practice for the first time in five weeks. He and CB Dunta Robinson (head) are both listed as probable. ... After losing David Caldwell to become the general manager with Jacksonville, Dimitroff promoted Lionel Vital to replace him as director of player personnel. Vital is in his fifth season with Atlanta, 22nd overall in the NFL.

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5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

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NBC Sports Washington

5 things to know about the newest Capital Radko Gudas

Most fans know little about Radko Gudas other than the fact that he has a reputation for being a dirty player. Here are some facts to help you get to know the newest Capital a little better.

1. Gudas has been suspended four times in his career

First the bad news. Gudas has a lengthy suspension history and is one hit away from getting a significant suspension from the Department of Player Safety. Here’s a look at all four of his suspensions:

Dec. 2, 2015: Check to the head of Mike Zibanejad, suspended two games

Oct. 10, 2016: Late check to the head of Austin Czarnik, suspended six games

Nov. 19, 2017: Slash to the head of Mathieu Perreault, suspended 10 games

Feb. 20, 2019: High-stick to the head of Nikita Kucherov, suspended two games

These plays are why Gudas has the reputation that he does.

Fans will want to compare Gudas with Tom Wilson, but really there is no comparison here. If you watch these plays from Gudas they certainly seem much more intentional than anything Wilson does.

The good news is that Gudas is working on playing a cleaner game.

“I worked on it in the summer and I thought I adjusted the game enough to still be able to play physical, just not be a liability out there for me team,” Gudas told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “It's always something hard to adjust, but we still have to do it. It's our job. If you don't hurt the team that you're playing for while doing it, that's where you can find (the line) as a player.”

This is not just lip service as Gudas’ penalty numbers have gone in each of the past three seasons, going from 116 in 2015-16 to 93, to 83 to 63 in 2018-19.

2. Gudas has had two fights against the Caps

Gudas has not been shy about dropping the gloves in his career and has done so twice against Washington.

The first instance came back on Nov. 11, 2014 while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. A scrum broke out after Eric Fehr barreled into goalie Ben Bishop and Gudas and Wilson became engaged leading to both players dropping the gloves.

The second fight came this past season. In a game between the Caps and Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 8, Gudas laid a big hit on Nic Dowd and Devante Smith-Pelly immediately came to his teammate’s defense. The fight was more of a tussle than anything else as neither player could get their hands free.

3. Gudas was voted as Philadelphia’s best defenseman in 2018-19

Now on to the good news. The Caps have actually gotten a good defenseman.

When it was announced that the Caps had traded Matt Niskanen for Gudas, the initial reaction was that Washington’s defense had gotten worse, but that was a necessary price to pay considering the team needed to clear cap space. That may not be the case.

Gudas had a very good 2018-19 season for the Flyers, so much so that he was given a team award as the most outstanding defenseman as voted on by sportswriters and broadcasters.

Did it help that pretty much everyone on Philadelphia’s blue line had a bad year? Yes, there is no denying that. Gudas is not the caliber player that he should be an NHL team’s best defenseman. But he is a lot better than most people give him credit for.

Make no mistake, this was not a simple salary dump by Washington. Brian MacLellan very shrewdly freed up some cap space by bringing in a defenseman who can play at a level that is just as good if not better than Niskanen can at this point.

4. Gudas has experience playing with Michal Kempny and Jakub Vrana

Gudas is from the Czech Republic and has some experience with some of his new Czech teammates. He and Kempny played on the U18 and 20 Czech teams together. Gudas and Vrana were teammates over the summer in the World Championships which Kempny could not participate in because he was injured.

“I played with a lot of the guys throughout the years that I play in the league, but with Michal, I used to play on the national team (with him),” Gudas said. “We're the same age. We played some important games together in youth. And with Jakub, I know him from the world national team a little bit now and I think we hit it off pretty well. Looking forward to work with them, too.”

5. Gudas is family with former Cap Michal Neuvirth

Neuvirth and girlfriend Karolina Gudasova had a baby girl in September 2017. As you can guess from Karolina’s last name, she is the sister of Radko thus making him the uncle to their girl, Emilka. Now Gudas is officially Neuvirth’s brother-in-law after Neuvirth and Karolina were married which led to hilariously random pictures like this.

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Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik

Free Agency Bracket: Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Capitals free agents

Brett Connolly vs. Brooks Orpik 

 

2018-19 stats 

Brett Connolly (27 years old): 81 games played with the Capitals, 22 goals, 24 assists, 46 points, 13:20 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 0 assists, 4 points, 13:50 TOI

 

Brooks Orpik (38 years old): 53 games played with the Capitals, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, 15:40 TOI

Playoffs: 7 games played with the Capitals, 1 goal, 1 assist, 18:12 TOI

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

Brett Connolly: 3 years, $3,536,091 cap hit

Brooks Orpik: 1 year, $1,150,064 cap hit

 

The case for Brett Connolly 

The Capitals have already re-signed one of their third-line free agents with Carl Hagelin’s new deal. Is there room left for Connolly? There is an argument to be made here. Connolly has made himself comfortable in Washington. He tied his career highs in goals twice (15) and then broke through with a career-best 22. And he is one of the league’s most productive players given his limited ice time. 

There are just too many big names in front of Connolly to get him much power-play time. Those 22 goals wouldn’t be easy to replace and GM Brian MacLellan said scoring depth is a concern this offseason. If he is again willing to sacrifice role for a bump in pay and some security then maybe Connolly returns to a place he re-ignited his career. The talent is certainly there as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2010 draft and Connolly is headed into his age-27 season so a three or four-year deal takes care of his prime years. 

It might be out of Washington’s hands anyway. Even if the Capitals want to keep him, other teams could use money AND ice time to entice Connolly. But can they strike gold again with another cheap third-line winger as they did with Connolly? That’s not easy to replicate. They could simply sign Connolly and take care of it, but the salary cap is tight.    

The case for Brooks Orpik

A leader, a winner, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. Hard to measure what Brooks Orpik has done for the Capitals in his five years with the team. Did the Capitals overpay an aging defenseman when they signed Orpik before the 2014-15 season? Maybe. But it worked out for everyone even after last summer’s buyout and subsequent return. Orpik contributed again last season – though a knee injury limited him and bothered him most of the season. He even scored a game-winning overtime goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Some of this will depend on what Orpik wants to do. He said it would be later in the summer before he makes a firm decision on whether to play at age 39. 

But while the Capitals have solidified their blueline with the trade for Radko Gudas and have two young players – Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos – available to play the left side, it’s always nice to have a veteran there. Orpik might not want to play a limited No. 6/7 role even if Washington wants him back. And maybe the Capitals want to give those young players ice time. But Orpik won’t cost much more than they do. Do you bring him back? 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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