Nationals

Justin Smith questionable for 49ers

Justin Smith questionable for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois has been preparing all week to start in place of All-Pro Justin Smith on the NFL's second-ranked defense.

The 49ers remain uncertain whether that will actually happen Sunday night in their NFC West showdown against the Seattle Seahawks.

Smith's availability is in question after he missed practice Friday for the third consecutive day because of an elbow injury, placing his streak of 185 consecutive starts in jeopardy.

The 49ers listed Smith as doubtful on an injury report they submitted to the NFL office Friday morning. He was upgraded to questionable later in the day, even though he didn't participate in the team's afternoon session.

Coach Jim Harbaugh, who indicated earlier in the week he expected Smith to play against the Seahawks, didn't elaborate on Smith's status other than to say ``he's done quite a bit, rehab, strengthening, conditioning.''

Smith has the third-longest active starting streak in the NFL behind Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber (213 consecutive starts) and Washington's London Fletcher (197). A 12-year veteran, Smith hasn't missed a start since early in his rookie season with Cincinnati.

Jean Francois is ready if Smith misses this one.

``Just another start,'' Jean Francois said. ``I'm not going to be sitting on the bench, not able to get in the game. So the preparation this week was a little different. I'll see a lot more action.''

Jean Francois ended up playing 48 of San Francisco's 92 defensive plays last week in a 41-34 victory over New England. Smith left that game early in the third quarter, got his elbow taped in the locker room and returned to the San Francisco sideline. But he never went back in the game.

The Patriots scored 28 straight points with Smith on the sideline to erase a 31-3 San Francisco lead, rolling to touchdowns on consecutive drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards.

But Jean Francois and left tackle Ray McDonald both came up with big plays as the 49ers stopped New England on its next two offensive series late in the fourth quarter after San Francisco regained the lead.

Jean Francois and McDonald had back-to-back sacks of quarterback Tom Brady to halt New England's momentum on the first of those series. Jean Francois beat New England left tackle Nate Solder on third down for his second career sack, forcing New England to punt for the first time since the second quarter.

``Ricky played well,'' 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. ``He had a critical sack there when we finally got them stopped, which were critical drives. He's a well-rounded player that can play both the banging game and he's got a little bit of athleticism, too. He's the one guy on our front that can play all three spots and nothing will change with him in there.''

Jean Francois has started at both nose tackle and left tackle in San Francisco's 3-4 defensive scheme since being drafted by the 49ers in 2009. Smith's presence on the right side hasn't given him many opportunities there.

Jean Francois has become a regular part of San Francisco's defensive line rotation that includes McDonald and starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga. His 34 tackles this season already are a career high, and Jean Francois had 11 tackles over a two-game stretch in September which included one start in place of an injured Sopoaga.

``I'm just trying to show my coaches that I'm someone you can trust when the times get really tough,'' Jean Francois said. ``You can put me in and the ball will never drop. That's the biggest thing, just making sure the ball keeps rolling whether it's Ray out or Justin out.''

Smith is a key cog in San Francisco's third-ranked rushing defense that will collide Sunday with Seattle's third-ranked rushing offense. Smith's 130 tackles rank third on the team behind All-Pro linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.

But if Smith's not there, the 49ers are confident Jean Francois can hold the line.

``Ricky's a very good player who could start for a lot of football teams in the NFL,'' said 49ers Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Staley, who lines up against both Smith and Jean Francois in practice. ``He fits the scheme really well and he knows exactly what he's doing. Obviously, Justin is Justin Smith, one of the best players in the NFL. But Ricky does a terrific job going in there, and if he's in there we expect him to do great things for us.''

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Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

Beats by Scherz: Why Scherzer chose Dr. Dre song as his walk-up music

NEW YORK – A few constants remain during this wayward Nationals season. One is Max Scherzer.

Scherzer comes into Tuesday leading the National League in innings pitched and strikeouts. He's second in strikeouts per nine innings and third in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Scherzer's 3.72 ERA is well above his average of 2.71 since arriving in Washington in 2015. However, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is a league-leading 2.45, showing he has been victimized by bad defense more than bad pitching.

He hopped on a pop-up edition of The Racing Presidents podcast Tuesday in New York. Sitting in the visitors dugout a day ahead of another matchup with 2018 Cy Young Award Jacob deGrom, Scherzer touched on lighter topics, like his selection of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre" as his walkup song, and addressed who is responsible for the Nationals being seven games under .500 the last year-plus.

We're all responsible," Scherzer said. "When you wear a hat and jersey that says Nationals on it, we're all in the same position. It's frustrating to not have a winning record. It's frustrating not to be winning as a team. [Since] I've been here, we've won a couple division titles and you know that feeling of what it's like to win. You know you have the core group of players who have won here in the past that can win here again. It's just a matter of figuring out what the right chemistry is and going out there and getting it done."

Scherzer is in his 12th major-league season. He's made at least 30 starts for 10 consecutive seasons. One of the reasons for his lack of injuries and durability is not because he goes through extensive recuperation during the offseason. Instead, Scherzer keeps pushing both his arm and body. 

"I try to find a way to continue to do more, to take more on my body even as I age," Scherzer said.

And, about that walkup song, which is part-protest, part-comeback song? He was out to dinner with reliever Aaron Barrett when it popped on and Barrett suggested it as this year's entrance music.

So, click below to listen to everything Scherzer had to say in our exclusive interview. Also, don't forget to download, rate and subscribe to The Racing Presidents podcast. We're with you after every game and with marquee interviews and insight you can't find elsewhere.

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Bruno Fernando

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Bruno Fernando

School: Maryland
Position: Center
Age: 20 (turns 21 in August)
Height: 6-10
Weight: 237
Wingspan: 7-3
Max vertical: 33.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 13.6 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 1.9 bpg, 60.7 FG% (5.1/8.4), 30.0 3PT% (0.1/0.3), 77.9 FT%

Player comparison: Jusuf Nurkic, Bam Adebayo

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 24th, NBADraft.net 12th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 28th, Ringer 37th

5 things to know:

*Fernando tested the NBA draft waters last year before returning to school and clearly helped his stock by doing so. He went from a likely second round pick to someone who could fall in the lottery. Fernando is ranked in most mock drafts as the third-best big man in this draft behind Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes.

*He is one of the best rebounders in this class. He averaged 10.9 boards per game as a sophomore and had five games of 15 or more. That includes a 19-rebound performance against Nebraska on Feb. 6. Fernando is a strong, physical forward so there is reason to believe those skills will translate to the next level.

*Concerns about Fernando include his lack of an outside shot. He attempted only 13 threes in college and did most of his damage around the rim. But the potential for Fernando to become a reliable scorer in the NBA appear to be there. He has soft touch around the rim and can finish with power.

*Defensively, Fernando needs some work. He has the physical tools with his size and long arms, and he averaged 1.9 blocks per game in college, but some evaluatiors criticize his defensive instincts and discipline. As long as Fernando can block shots and rebound in the NBA, he should be fine on that end of the floor.

*Fernando is originally from the country of Angola and has played for their national team in several international tournaments. Angola basketball is famous for being the subject of one of Charles Barkley's most memorable quotes. During the 1992 Olympics, he said of USA's next opponent: "I don't know anything about Angola, but I know they're in trouble."

Fit with Wizards: Fernando would fit the Wizards in a variety of ways. Rim protection and rebounding are their biggest needs and he would help them to different degrees in both areas. With rebounding in particular, he could be a big plus.

But two questions about Fernando could give the Wizards pause. One is if they can justify taking him ninth when he may fall into the teens and second is what his ceiling will ultimately be. Does he have All-Star potential or will he top out as an Enes Kanter-type rebounding specialist?

Ideally, the Wizards would find someone with very high upside to give them hope for a true franchise building block moving forward. There may be better options than Fernando at No. 9, even if they play positions that are less of a need for the Wizards.

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