Lightning-quick QBs pose problems for defenses


Lightning-quick QBs pose problems for defenses

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The most potent weapons for No. 20 Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State are undoubtedly their quarterbacks.

Pity their poor defenses in the big showdown on Saturday.

Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson, who may line up everywhere but behind the center due to an arm injury, are the speedsters who lead the Wolverines' attack. Meanwhile the Buckeyes rely on Braxton Miller, who likes to make tacklers grab handfuls of air when he's not completing long passes.

Stopping, or at least slowing down, the trio will be the main objective for both teams.

Good luck with THAT.

Gardner provided six touchdowns, three running and three passing, in Michigan's landslide win over Iowa in The Big House last week. Robinson, with 41 touchdowns and 4,273 rushing yards in his career, dabbled at tailback and wide receiver while picking up 98 yards on 13 carries.

Ohio State is in a quandary, having to figure out just how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges will utilize the two. Even he doesn't seem to know.

``You don't know - nobody knows - until the lights go on,'' Borges said.

So the Buckeyes must prepare for a little bit of everything.

``I just know something's coming,'' Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said of the possible sleight of hand. ``You just know something's coming.''

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been tight-lipped about his plans this week. Gardner is the reigning Big Ten player of the week on offense, but Hoke hasn't ruled out Robinson - famous for his lengthy streaks to the goal line as much as for not tying his shoelaces - under center.

The Wolverines refused to even hint at what they might do.

``I never caught a pass in a game before,'' Robinson said innocently.

During closed practices this week he wore a padded compression sleeve on his right elbow, which suffered nerve damage from a hit earlier this season.

Asked if he can throw, he grinned and said, ``You'll see on Saturday.''

Despite the respect they have for Gardner, Ohio State's defense knows it can't ignore Robinson.

``I know about Denard here and there just from Big Ten media day, and he is a good guy,'' said linebacker Etienne Sabino, himself just back from an injury. ``But on the field, we aren't friends.''

Gardner watched the video from the Iowa game, a 42-17 laugher, and saw the problems the combo created.

``Not just when Denard had the ball - of course he made big plays - but when he didn't have the ball we had our even bigger plays,'' he said. ``Just the attention that he gets is amazing - it just helps us succeed.''

Ohio State defensive lineman Garrett Goebel said having two quarterbacks on the field creates double the headaches.

``It's always hard to even prepare for one quarterback, (especially) when it's Denard,'' he said. ``Two quarterbacks makes it tougher.''

Gardner was recruited by Meyer when he was the head coach at Florida. He was also pursued by Ohio State. Like a lot of athletes on both sides in what is already a grudge match, he has a sizable chip on his shoulder.

``They didn't offer me a scholarship,'' he said of the Buckeyes. ``I was pretty bitter.''

Only after he had committed to Michigan did Ohio State make an offer. He posted a picture of himself online burning the letter.

Asked if he did that with any other letters, he said, ``Just that one.''

It's not as if it's only Ohio State's defense which has a problem. Far from it. Miller is considered one of the nation's best quarterbacks and a danger to go all the way every time he touches the ball, even though he's coming off one of his worst games in an unbeaten season.

Meyer takes the blame for that. He said he buttoned up the offense and leaned on the defense when the Buckeyes took a 14-0 lead at Wisconsin last week. As a result, Ohio State foundered when they had the ball throughout the second half.

Wisconsin came back to force overtime, but the Buckeyes scored easily and then held for a 21-14 victory.

``I take (the) fault,'' Meyer said. ``I was very conservative in the second half of that ballgame. We have to open it up a little bit and we're going to do that this week.''

Michigan remains on high alert.

Despite the speed he has at the skill positions, Hoke didn't have anybody to play the role of Miller during practice this week.

``I don't think we can ever find a guy that can give us the look that you're going to get from Braxton, his athleticism and the maturity,'' he said. ``That's something that's hard to find when you're trying to replicate that. The other part about it is he's surrounded by a great cast.''

A year ago as a callow freshman, Miller almost led an Ohio State team that would finish with a 6-7 record to victory at Michigan. An underthrown pass to a wide-open receiver streaking down the sidelines would have given the Buckeyes the lead in the final minutes of what would be a 40-34 defeat. It was only the second time in a decade that Ohio State left The Game with a loss.

Miller still isn't mistaken for Peyton Manning, but he is a much improved passer. On top of that, he's got speed to spare when he turns on the afterburners as he's leaving the pocket on a scramble.

``He's throwing the ball better, he's very elusive,'' said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was the architect of Meyer's national-championship defenses at Florida. ``He'll take off running full speed and he'll stop on a dime. He looks stronger. I thought he was good last time. He's a very, very good quarterback.''

And he's not alone out there. The Buckeyes may not have another quarterback with him, but they have tailback Carlos Hyde, with 824 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, and several other threats to spread the workload in Meyer's hurry-up, spread attack.

``It's a significantly different offense,'' Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs said. ``It's an uptempo offense that can run the ball downhill and they have a lot of athletes that they like to get the ball to in space. This year, they put a little bit more speed on the field.''

As the defenses know, that last statement is true for both teams.


AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Ann Arbor, Mich., contributed to this report.


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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

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Your guide to this year's Capitals Development Camp

While this year’s Capitals roster brought home the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup – it’s no secret that the team won’t be able to stay together as it is.

Despite the NHL salary cap rising from $75 million to about $79.5 million, the team will have less than $20 million to re-sign 19 active NHL and AHL affiliate players.

Challenging seems like an understatement when considering that key players like John Carlson, Jay Beagle, and Devante Smith-Pelly are due for some significant raises from their previous contracts. 

Similarly, the organization has to maintain depth, keeping its core roster strong while still offering smaller two-way contracts to their minor-league players in Hershey. 

With this in mind, this summer’s development camp seems especially crucial. For die-hard fans and new arrivals alike, all eyes are on how management will keep the team’s momentum next season.

Here’s what you need to know about attending Capitals Development Camp –shortened as dev camp – including who to watch and what events are most worthwhile.

What should I expect for Capitals development camp?

Development camp is fairly self-explanatory.

For one week every summer, as offseason contract negotiations take place, prospective players, minor-league players, and junior league players gather for a week for assessment, scrimmaging, fitness testing, practice, and publicity events. However, it's important to realize that the roster will not be finalized until the last minute, and depends on who the Capitals select or trade for in the 2018 NHL draft this Friday and Saturday.

Practices are free and open to the public at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, with coaching and managerial staff assessing players. Fan Fest will take place on Saturday, June 30 featuring the final camp scrimmage.

The Alumni Summer Classic game is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Kettler. The event is also free and open to the public.

Who should I be looking out for?

Former Hershey Bears on entry-level contracts like Jakub Vrana and Madison Bowey provided essential depth to the Capitals through this historic season. Several of their colleagues may be next in line.

Following last years’ development camp, Connor Hobbs, Lucas Johansen, and Jonas Siegenthaler joined the Hershey Bears, showing promise on the team’s blue line. 

Hobbs, 21, spent two seasons with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League before coming to the Bears this past season. In November 2017, Hobbs suffered a wrist fracture, missing 32 games of the Bears’ 76-game season. Despite the injury, Hobbs put up a total of 16 points in 44 games.

Assuming he stays healthy, he only stands to get better. Like Siegenthaler, we’ll likely see him in the preseason lineup.

Johansen, 20, also came to the Bears from the WHL – Kelowna, to be exact. The 2016 first-round pick put up a respectable 27 points over 74 games this season. Though this may seem like a significant drop from his previous season’s 41 points in the WHL, the decrease is fairly typical when transitioning from junior to professional hockey.

Siegenthaler, 21, has the most impressive resume of any Capitals defensive prospect. Siegenthaler struggled to produce with the Bears this season, but did finish the full season in Hershey after spending 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with Switzerland’s ZSC Lions and joining the Bears for their spring playoff push. He’s also made appearances on the international stage at the U20 World Junior tournament, adding his name to Switzerland’s national team roster this season.

It will be interesting to see if he could push for a spot with the NHL club.

On the offensive side, Brian Pinho, 23, seems to be poised for a change. Coming off a four-year career with the Providence College Friars, Pinho captained the team to the NCAA quarterfinals this season.

It’s uncommon, yet not unsmart, to finish out a college degree before joining the NHL. Pinho will likely join the Bears next season.

Garrett Pilon, 20, was traded from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers to the Everett Silvertips. The star child of Everett’s historic playoff run, he proved his indispensability as a scorer who works well under pressure, racking up a whopping 80 points in his final junior league season.

With contracts up in the air for several of the Capitals’ bottom-six forwards and favorable testimonies from management, Pilon might be the strongest chance to crack the lineup.

The Caps’ depth and future in goal looks a bit wonky, with general manager Brian MacLellan strongly hinting at shopping backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to teams who may be able to use him as a starter. Braden Holtby isn’t going anywhere, but you need more than one goalie for an entire NHL season, plus playoffs.

What to do? We’ll have to see how this year’s draft shakes out on June 22 and 23. But for now, keep an eye on Ilya Samsonov. The 21-year-old posted a 0.926 save percentage across 26 games with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk this season. Even if he moves up to Hershey next season, it’ll be interesting to watch his development.

What else should I know?

If this dev camp is your first time at Kettler, get excited!

Note that for all practices except scrimmages, forwards will be dressed in red or white practice jerseys and defensemen in blue.

Since most players are new and/or under watch by management and coaching, all players will have names and numbers on the backs of their jerseys to make them easier to identify.

Keep in mind that whoever the Caps chose – or trade for – with their six picks in Friday and Saturday’s draft will also affect the dev camp roster. It often isn’t finalized until the last minute. Dev camp provides the first and best chance to get up close and personal with the Caps' newly drafted players. The uncertainty of who you'll get to see can be a drawback, but regardless, attending can give a great glimpse into where the Caps may be headed next season.

Between the Alumni Game, practices, and final weekend scrimmages, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to get your offseason hockey fix or take a step back from the Capitals’ salary cap woes. The final schedule for the week is likely to be released Sunday.


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Grading the Caps' 2013 draft


Grading the Caps' 2013 draft

The NHL is different from the NBA and NFL. Unless you have one of the absolute top picks of the draft, chances are you are not going to see any players from a draft class for several years. That makes it pretty hard to evaluate how a team did with its picks.

As the Caps prepare for the draft to begin Friday, let’s turn the clock back five years and see how they did in the 2013 draft.

First round, 23rd overall: Forward Andre Burakovsky

The draft is all about finding players skilled enough to produce in the NHL. They certainly found that in the young Swede. There’s no question that Burakovsky has top-six talent, but we all keep waiting for that breakout season when he takes his game to the next level. Even after four NHL seasons under his belt, he still can’t quite get there. Consistency has always been an issue for him and the root of that problem comes from both his durability issues and between the ears. He should be a 20-25, maybe even 30-goal scorer if he can put it all together.

Overall though, this was a solid pick for the Caps. Judging by the players drafted after him to fill out the first round, either Burakovsky or defenseman Shea Theodore were the two best players available. Washington picked one of them and got a top-six forward out of it.

Second round, 53rd overall: Defenseman Madison Bowey

Bowey made his long awaited NHL debut this season, but the jury is ultimately still out on just how good he is. The potential is certainly there, but the growing pains of a rookie were still there as well. The Capitals have an NHL-caliber defenseman in Bowey, but time will tell if he is a top-four one.

Second round, 61st overall: Forward Zach Sanford

Drafted players can provide value in two ways: on the ice and as trade value. Sanford was a traded to St. Louis as part of the package that brought Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. Sanford was a tweener last season in that it looked at times like he was not quite ready for the full-time switch to the NHL, but was brilliant when he played in the AHL. An injury limited him to just 20 games in the AHL this season, but he looks like he could be a solid bottom-six addition in the NHL if he can get healthy again.

Fifth round, 144th overall: Defenseman Blake Heinrich

This one was a miss. Heinrich’s career has not gone past junior. He has 132 career games in the WHL, 85 games in the USHL and spent the 2017-18 season playing for the University of Manitoba.

Sixth round, 174th overall: Forward Brian Pinho

Pinho spent four years developing his game at Providence College and developed into a very strong two-way player at the collegiate level. He signed an entry-level contract with the Caps at the end of his senior year just before the end of the regular season. He skated with the team a few days before he was allowed to return home to finish his degree. He will likely start next season in the AHL, but there is some potential for him to become a bottom-six center in the NHL which would make him a steal in the sixth round.

Seventh round, 204th overall: Defenseman Tyler Lewington

A hard-nosed defenseman who is never afraid to drop the gloves, Lewington has certainly found a home in Hershey. Overall, his skillset is much better suited for that level and I do not see any extensive NHL time in his future, but to find a dependable AHL defenseman in the seventh round is a good find for Washington.

Overall Grade: B+

Picking at No. 23, there were not many superstars to choose from. The Capitals still found one of the best players available in Burakovsky. With no third or fourth round pick, Washington really needed to nail their two second round picks. It’s too early to tell exactly how good Bowey will be and the evaluation for Sanford changes now that he was traded from “how good is he?” to “was this good asset management?” It’s still a bit too early to answer that question as well. There is only one real bust in the draft class, but the fact that the Caps found value in both the sixth and seventh round including one player who still could potentially fill an NHL role gives this class a high grade.