Nationals

Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

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Malzahn taking aim at Auburn's talent, attitude

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Bo Jackson says new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn must build the program from the ground up and start by putting down a solid foundation.

Malzahn inherits a Tigers team with virtually every starter returning next season but plenty of uncertainty at quarterback and many other positions from a team that had a number of issues on both sides of the ball - and away from the field. So Jackson is preaching patience.

``I think what Gus Malzahn is facing right now, he's facing an empty lot,'' said Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner and part of the four-man search committee. ``He's got to go move dirt. Lay a foundation and start to build a house. He's got to rebuild that house. That's what he plans on doing.''

Auburn gave Malzahn a five-year, $11.5 million deal Tuesday with focus on restoring the team to championship caliber and bringing more discipline to a program that endured a number of off-the-field issues under Gene Chizik.

He has signed a letter of agreement that pays up to $1.5 million a year in performance bonuses. The letter, released by Auburn on Wednesday, says he will be owed his $500,000 base salary for the rest of his contract if fired without cause. He won't be owed anything if fired with cause, including rules violations or ``serious personal misconduct.''

Auburn will pay his $700,000 buyoout to Arkansas State as a loan, forgiving 20 percent each year Malzahn remains. Jackson is optimistic that he'll be there awhile.

The former NFL and Major League Baseball player used words like ``passion,'' ``tenacity'' and ``hungry'' to describe Malzahn's pitch and demeanor in his interview with the search committee. He also praised his willingness ``to come into a hornet's nest like this and say, `My job is to rebuild this program, to get these kids back to the winning ways these kids are used to.'''

That challenge extends well beyond Xs and Os.

The Tigers wilted against top competition, getting routed by No. 10 Texas A&M (63-21), No. 6 Georgia (38-0) and No. 2 Alabama (49-0) and also had center Reese Dismukes and freshman quarterback Zeke Pike arrested for public intoxication over the summer. Chizik dismissed Pike from the team.

Search committee member Mac Crawford, a Nashville businessman, said discipline was one of the first topics brought up with Malzahn.

``We talked about it a long time and we were very satisfied with the answers that he gave to us,'' said Crawford, a former Auburn fullback who was chairman of the board at CVSCaremark and CEO/chairman of CaremarkRx.

Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace said discipline was an issue last season ``but that's something that can be fixed.''

``Just a matter of us being accountable with each other,'' said Wallace, who started the final four games. ``That's the biggest thing, just looking out for each other and making sure that we're not doing anything that we don't need to be doing.''

The Tigers do have big holes to fill, despite returning 18 players who started on offense or defense in the finale against Alabama. They're losing their only consistently productive receiver, Emory Blake, No. 2 rusher Onterio McCalebb and leading tackler Daren Bates. Defensive end Corey Lemonier also hasn't said if he'll return for his senior season or enter the NFL draft.

But Malzahn said it goes beyond talent to attitude.

``We do have some talent, and we have some deficiencies, and what I've got to do is identify the deficiencies and address those immediately and also the mindset,'' he said. ``The mindset and expectations mentally and physically of our players. So we've got some work to do, but I know the areas we need to improve on and we're going to address those.''

Crawford has experience reviving companies, and finds correlations in Malzahn's challenge.

``Let's face it, this is a turnaround situation,'' Crawford said in a phone interview Wednesday. ``This is a team that won three ballgames last season, and he has got to get the kids back to where they have a winning attitude, heading in the right direction. We've got good kids at Auburn.

``I've always done turnarounds in my corporate career and any time you go in, getting the right people in the right places and doing it the way you think should be done - that's what Gus has to do. You just can't expect it to happen overnight.''

Malzahn does have a track record for reviving offenses quickly, even before Cam Newton's arrival in 2010. The Tigers improved from 110th in scoring in 2008 to 16th the following season with Chris Todd at quarterback.

Malzahn also directed Tulsa offenses that led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008.

Wallace, one of three quarterbacks with multiple starts returning, said he attended every Auburn home game during the national championship season two years ago. He also saw what Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel did this season with a similarly uptempo offense.

``It's exciting. It really is, just being able to go there and just run all over the defense if you execute as well as you need to,'' said Wallace, who signed after Malzahn left for Arkansas State. ``It's a really fun offense. You've really got to put in all the work that's needed to be very successful in this offense.''

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Nationals Scene and Heard: Crowd noise makes its way into the stadium

Nationals Scene and Heard: Crowd noise makes its way into the stadium

WASHINGTON -- Suddenly on Thursday, the speakers were alive in Nationals Park.

Out came the voice of public address announcer Jerome Hruska, who was in the stadium. The scoreboard lit up. The light boards around the park were active. By 8 p.m., the stadium lights were on, a benign breeze floated through the park and the intrasquad game was scoreless in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Starlin Castro singled up the middle off James Borque to excite the “crowd.” A cheer came through the speakers when the ball landed in center field. There were also cheers when a player struck out. Such is the nature of intrasquad play.

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So, the park went from echoing silence for almost two weeks to jazzed up three days before the exhibition opener. It was an improvement.

“If anything, it gets you zoned in a little more,” Erick Fedde said. “Crowd noise is something I feel like most are pretty good at zoning out. I didn’t really think about it to be honest. But it was nice to kind of feel like we had a little bit better atmosphere today.”

Major League Baseball went a similar route to the Premier League in order to combat empty stadiums. Sky Sports worked with EA Sports’ FIFA division to create simulated chants and crowd noises designed for specific teams. Here, MLB drew from audio created for the video game MLB The Show.

The video board usage was a distinct improvement from prior days when it only carried a doomsday-looking clock since workouts began July 3. Wednesday, it was filled with normal graphics -- including new ones mentioning who won the 2019 World Series -- throughout the intrasquad game.

“They noticed it,” Davey Martinez said of the players. “With not having like a regular crowd, obviously the echo out in the field, it’s different. We had to click it down a little bit to get it where we thought it was more ‘real’. But they liked it. They liked the noise. They like the music -- they like to dance -- so it was good. We got a great reaction from them, liked it, we’re going to incorporate it this season. We’re going to work out the bugs. It’s definitely a lot better to hear that than listen [to] yourself screaming or hear everyone talking.”

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It’s a work in progress. Wednesday night, Wilmer Difo popped up behind home plate into the stands and a large cheer went up. It was the kind of noise even the most overzealous fan base would not produce.

The noise as a whole was turned down in the final innings, per the players’ request. Martinez thought they found the proper spot for the volume by the end of the night.

“I want to make this last week or so as close as we can to real games,” Martinez said.

-- Stephen Strasburg started for one side. He struck out four consecutive batters after Trea Turner doubled to start the intrasquad game. Not surprisingly, Martinez said he thought Strasburg looked good. He’s in line to face James Paxton in the second game of the season when the New York Yankees come to Nationals Park.

-- Starlin Castro has been piling up at-bats and swings since joining camp July 9. He started late, so he is trying to catch up. He’s also crucial -- remaining likely to hit third during the season -- so the Nationals want to be sure he’s not doing too much.

“It’s a fine line,” Martinez said. “He’s been taking a lot of swings in the cage. Hitting, hitting off the velo machine. I’m not overly concerned with Starlin. He’s just a pure hitter. He’s a good hitter. ...he’ll be fine.”

-- Carter Kieboom made a nice sliding defensive play to his left and was able to get up and throw to first for the out. He also turned a 5-3 double play when fielding a grounder, hearing yells to step on the bag, slightly changing direction to find it, then throwing to first. His education at third base is happening in real-time.

-- Martinez positively mentioned Jake Irvin throwing 95-97 mph on Wednesday when he pitched the bottom of the fifth inning. Irvin, 23, pitched for Single-A Hagerstown last season.

“It’s so funny to watch these young kids come up,” Martinez said. “He walked off the mound and had those big ‘ol eyeballs sticking out. I can remember those days when I was a kid coming out and playing those games.”

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Nationals have perfect response to Twitter's verified shutdown

Nationals have perfect response to Twitter's verified shutdown

On Wednesday, Twitter experienced a large number of hacks into numerous big name, verified accounts. As the social media platform worked to control the problem, it limited the tweeting capabilities for all verified accounts.

Essentially, that means anyone with a blue checkmark is stuck in a social media purgatory where they couldn't share their thoughts. That includes the Washington Nationals team account. 

However, verified accounts still had the ability to retweet other tweets. The Nationals took advantage of this feature in the most perfect way possible, deciding to share some tweets from an account called "everyword" which tweets every word in the English dictionary. Yes, that account does perfectly sum up what Twitter is.

Washington used its retweeting ability to form an incredible sentence on the team's profile: "cant tweet but still champions."

The Nationals have mentioned their recent World Series Championship in almost every tweet since the final out on October 30, 2019, and rightfully so. The accomplishment was a big one, and until someone knocks them off, they have the right to let the world know they are the champions. Twitter may have been in a shutdown, but that wasn't going to stop them.

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Soon after, tweeting rights were once again granted, and Washington wasted no time getting back to their Twitter grind.

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