Louisville scrimmage indicates sense of purpose

Louisville scrimmage indicates sense of purpose

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) There's a time and place for light shows, videos and thumping music.

Just not Saturday at Louisville's first scrimmage.

In fact, the atmosphere at KFC Yum! Center felt more like a midseason Big East Conference game than the public scrimmage it was, and that was no accident given the Cardinals' expectations of winning a national championship.

After losing to in-state rival and eventual national champion Kentucky at last spring's Final Four, Louisville wanted its sense of purpose known from the start. Other than some banter between coach Rick Pitino and his players, it seemed like just another practice and that's how the Cardinals want it.

Having come close last season, they don't want to let anything distract them from the job at hand.

``Everybody really knows what it takes to get to the Final Four,'' senior guard Peyton Siva said, ``and everybody's hungry and everybody's ready to keep on it and move game by game.''

The Cardinals return much of last year's surprising team that went 30-10, won the Big East tournament and reached its ninth Final Four. That includes starting forward Chane Behanan (9.5 points, 7.5 rebounds per game) and center Gorgui Deing (9.1, 9.1).

Siva's back after averaging 9.1 points and 5.6 assists, along with guard Russ Smith and swingman Wayne Blackshear.

Louisville added freshman center Montrezl Harrell (Hargrave Military Academy) to beef up its inside game, and he didn't disappoint by leading the Red team's 74-58 victory with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two steals and a block in 35 minutes.

Asked if he's the piece that could help the Cardinals win their third title, the 6-foot-8, 235-pounder smiled and said, ``hopefully.''

Also new is guard Luke Hancock, eligible after transferring last season from George Mason. He is expected to help Louisville's perimeter game after shooting 30.8 percent last season.

A top-five ranking is expected for Louisville as a result, which explains the Cardinals' singular focus. Having gone so far last season despite injuries, they not only expect another deep run through the NCAA tournament but figure to cross paths with Kentucky along the way, hoping to avenge that semifinal loss.

That's fine by Pitino, but it begins with his team taking every opponent seriously - including Manhattan, Louisville's season-opening opponent on Nov. 11 here.

``We're trying to get ready (because) Manhattan has a heck of a basketball team,'' Pitino said, ``so we want to be ready the first game out. We're working on a lot of things a lot quicker than we normally work on.''

Dieng added, ``we don't care about rankings. We just have to get ready for everybody, or we'll get beat.''

From the start, the Red squad featuring Siva, Dieng, Harrell and Blackshear had more energy than the White team including Behanan, Smith and Hancock. They shot nearly 44 percent in both halves, thrived in transition and held the White team to 30 percent shooting.

Behanan scored a game-high 24 for the White team. Dieng had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Red team, and Siva added 12 points and six assists.

Overall, though, the Cardinals seemed more focused than expected considering practice officially started Friday. That's not surprising considering their coach's deliberate approach, and Pitino said he saw that intensity during the offseason.

``We're working real hard on execution, even though it's the first day,'' Pitino said. ``We had those two hours a week (before practice officially started) and we used it to work on execution.

``We have three scrimmages and we want to see us improve our shooting, improve our play with each one. Next time out, the shooting, it didn't look good tonight but next time out I want to see it look a lot better. The third one, that's when we put them very close together.''

The other scrimmages are Oct. 21 and 27 at KFC Yum! Center.

Despite the lopsided score, Louisville gave the crowd of 10,355 something to look forward to. Compared to first-practice ``Madness'' events held Friday night across the country, especially Kentucky's celebration that had a rock-concert feel to it, the atmosphere was somewhat low-key.

Other than a pregame watch party for the Cardinals' football victory over Pitt, the fanfare wasn't much different from the regular season. But that's not saying it wasn't loose.

A miked-up Pitino walked the sidelines, occasionally barking out instructions and jabs to both squads. And he was quick to call out players' mental lapses for everybody to hear and laugh at.

No sporting event is complete these days without a Gangnam Style video playing, which got the crowd and some Cardinals moving during a timeout. But once it ended it was back to the matter of preparing to reach this year's Final Four in Atlanta.

And this time, closing the deal.

``It's definitely all business here,'' Siva said. ``I wish we could Midnight Madness and play around, but Coach P is a business-first type of guy. We have our fun after practice, but once we lace it up and step on the court, it's all business and that's how we play.''

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should not expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that his the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side. But since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat the whole offense will be harder to defend

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:


Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

New pieces on offense lead to plenty of questions for Redskins at OTAs

Alex Smith in, Kirk Cousins out.

That's certainly the headline, but there are plenty of other questions for the Redskins, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

For the last two seasons, most of the questions going into OTAs for Washington came from the defensive side of the ball. After consecutive drafts with a first-round defensive lineman selection, the defense should be much improved. 

On offense, however, there are a lot of new parts. 

  1. The headliner - No position in sports is as important as NFL quarterback. This will be Alex Smith's first action in a Redskins uniform with media present. The 34-year-old veteran is coming off the best season of his career, and if he can continue that level of accuracy and play-making, the Redskins could be poised for an explosive year.
  2. The speedster - Washington's wideouts lacked separation in 2017. It was apparent through much of the year, and likely played a roll in some of Kirk Cousins' reluctance to make tough throws. Free agent addition Paul Richardson is supposed to help, immediately. He has elite deep speed and the 'Skins brass hopes he can bring a similar element to the offense that DeSean Jackson provided a few years back. Time to prove it Paul. 
  3. The injuries - There are big reasons for concern, namely two very large men in Jordan Reed and Trent Williams. Reed will not participate in OTAs, and has been dealing with a foot/toe injury for the better part of a year. Williams, who seems highly unlikely to attend OTAs, underwent knee surgery in January. Beyond Smith, Reed and Williams are probably the two most important offensive players on the Redskins. OTAs aren't important, Reed and Williams participating, or even attending, OTAs is not important. Both men being healthy and ready to go in September is quite important. 
  4. The Rookie - Has Derrius Guice become the most popular player on the Redskins? Maybe. The dynamic rookie running back, with an interesting draft weekend slide, has the charisma and ability to be a star. The "off-field concerns" that hurt his draft status seem like myths at this point, but there was some injury concern his junior season at LSU (see video above). Guice has an opportunity to be a huge part of the Redskins offense, and all eyes will be watching the rookie. 
  5. The leap? - In 2017, Josh Doctson showed flashes of the player that warranted a first-round pick in 2016. Will 2018 be the year he proves it, week after week, game after game? Getting off to a good start with Smith should help, and even more important would be an injury-free offseason. 

There are questions for the defense too, particularly at cornerback after Josh Norman, but this year, the offense has more new parts. 


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