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Manning has made all of the Broncos better

Manning has made all of the Broncos better

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) John Elway insisted that every one of the Denver Broncos was better the second Peyton Manning put his signature on that nearly $100 million contract last spring.

Indeed, all have prospered from the arrival of the meticulous quarterback whose work ethic generated, as coach John Fox also predicted, a lifting of all boats.

Teammates on both sides of the ball are better. So are the coaches. Heck, even the team's ticket sellers and concessionaries have upped their games.

While Manning was turning what began as a season of mystery into one of magnificence, several of his cohorts enjoyed breakout or bounce-back years as the Broncos (13-3) thundered into the playoffs as the AFC's top seed and winners of 11 straight.

Not since Elway was leading comebacks on the football field instead of from the front office have the Broncos been the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl like they are now.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley suggests we call it, ``The Manning Effect.''

Manning sets his standards so high that ``it just makes the players work harder and want to do better,'' said Stokley, who traded in retirement for a reunion with the four-time MVP. ``With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else.''

Players see the league's most decorated quarterback working as though he's on the bubble to even make the team, and they take heed.

``I think when you have someone of his stature pushing himself to the ultimate level that it makes everyone push themselves to that level, too,'' said Denver tight end Jacob Tamme, who also played with Manning in Indianapolis. ``The fact he's had the success he's had but still works so hard still at this point, I think shows why he's had the success that he's had in the first place.''

Young receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Tony Carter) blossomed under Manning's tutelage. Tailback Knowshon Moreno revived his career. Guard Zane Beadles broke through in his third season and linebacker Wesley Woodyard did so in his fifth. Von Miller, last year's top defensive rookie, became a bona fide superstar, and several veterans such as Stokley looked young again.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the architect of the hybrid offense Manning ran so adroitly in putting up numbers that surpassed those from all four of his MVP seasons, is such a hot head coaching candidate that he's holding his very own jobs fair this weekend in Denver, meeting with one team after another.

Manning helped them all do their jobs better over the last 10 months.

It all began in the spring on local high school football fields with receivers working hard at not rounding off their routes lest they get an earful from No. 18 and then at team headquarters with cornerbacks picking Manning's brain to figure out how he was picking them apart.

It grew fast from there, the Broncos getting better and bolder by the week as the 36-year-old quarterback put to rest any lingering doubts about his health or age.

The Broncos' offense rose from 23rd in the league last season to fourth, and Denver's defense jumped from 20th to second. They scored 481 points a year after scoring 309. And their defense allowed 289 a year after yielding 390.

``Well, it makes you grow up faster because, for one, he's not going to let you get away with constant mistakes,'' Champ Bailey said. ``Maybe one here, one over there, but the same mistakes over and over, he doesn't want you in there. And that's the same way on defense. You make too many mistakes, you're not going to play.''

The ones that did play sure did well.

About two dozen players on the Broncos' 53-man roster put up their best statistical seasons in 2012. Others had the best performances in years.

``I'd say on both sides of the balls and special teams, there's guys that have been playing some of their best football,'' Decker said. ``Offensively, as skill players, having Peyton Manning has helped tremendously, helped the line tremendously, and defensively, with the scheme they're doing and how they're doing, it helps everybody.''

Not all of this ripple effect is intangible. Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 1/2 sacks in large part because of the leads Manning's offense provided, allowing the pair of pass-rushers to, as the saying goes, pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.

``He puts everybody in the best position to show off your skill-set even if you're a grunt guy in the middle taking on double teams,'' said defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who posted a career high in tackles and even caught one of Manning's 37 touchdown passes when he lined up as a fullback.

While Elway, the Broncos' Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-executive, scaled the mountaintop to land Manning, he also climbed the league's scrap heap to find the likes of veteran castaways Keith Brooking, Trindon Holliday, Jimmy Leonhard, Jacob Hester and Dan Koppen, all of whom have, like Manning, revived their careers in Denver.

Manning, who's the best quarterback the NFL has ever known when it comes to decoding defenses, was especially helpful for Denver's secondary.

``DBs, we're known as the cocky bunch anyway. But we're definitely confident going out their having gone against Peyton Manning every day in practice,'' safety David Bruton said. ``I don't feel like there's a quarterback we'll face that will do anything on the field that we haven't seen in practice.''

The Broncos spent their bye week having their starting offense square off against their starting defense, and Woodyard said that when Manning scored on a sneak Wednesday, he spiked the ball and talked a little trash.

``Peyton comes to work excited about being here,'' Woodyard said. ``He's excited about a shorts practice and I've never seen a quarterback like that, amped up every day, getting guys better.''

To be sure, some of the uptick in so many players' games is a natural progression as they gain experience. Some of it is because of the way the focused Broncos have had their blinders on all season, never looking beyond the day's work or the next opponent.

Manning, though, sits atop the credits.

``I think there's a direct correlation because when you have a guy of that caliber, he gives everybody confidence,'' Fox said. ``Not just the guys on offense, the guys on defense. And that's where I'm talking about him raising all boats.''

Notes: The Broncos' season home attendance of 613,062 was the highest in the team's 53-year history. ... Left tackle Ryan Clady didn't practice all week, but the team isn't required to give an injury report until Tuesday. Clady has dealt with a bothersome hamstring of late but has never missed a game in his career.

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

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: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Marcus Kruger

 

2018-19 stats

 

Noel Acciari (27 years old):72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

 

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

 

Marcus Kruger (29 years old): 74 games played with the Chicago Blackhawks, 4 goals, 8 assists, 12 points, 10:25 TOI

 

Playoffs: None

 

Hockey-Graph contract projections

 

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

 

Marcus Kruger: 1 year, $861,030 cap hit

 

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to give an obvious fourth-line player a decent raise. The Capitals might not, either, but for now, they really only have to add in RFA Jakub Vrana’s new contract and figure out what they’re going to do with RFA Andre Burakovsky. 

 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot.  

 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.  

 

The case for Marcus Kruger

 

A different skill set here for the smaller Kruger (6-foot, 186 pounds). Don’t expect even double-digit goals from him, either. But Kruger will likely cost less than $1 million and can be a valuable penalty killer, where Washington needs help. That’s huge for a team that is now dealing with an $81.5 million salary cap, which is $1.5 million less than expected. Add in the overage bonus for defenseman Brooks Orpik from last season and you’re in trouble at just over $80 million.   

 

Kruger played seven seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks and one disappointing one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Kruger has plenty of Stanley Cup experience, too, playing for Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup winners. He has 87 postseason games and a triple-overtime game-winner in the Western Conference Final to his name in 2015 in Game 2 of that series against Anaheim. 

 

A defensive specialist, only two Blackhawks forwards played more short-handed minutes than Kruger (132:46) last season. There is risk here. Kruger was traded to Carolina in 2017-18, but was placed on waivers after 48 games and spent the rest of the season in the AHL before being traded to Arizona and then back to Chicago. But part of that stemmed from how much he was making on a $3.08 million cap hit. At a bargain-basement price, Kruger is more palatable. 

 

Who’s your pick? Vote here.

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Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura is a 'late bloomer' in basketball, but the Washington Wizards like that

Rui Hachimura was introduced to the sport of basketball at 13 years old after spending his childhood on the baseball diamond, emulating Ichiro Suzuki, as many kids in Japan do. Just eight years later, Hachimura has charted his own path as the first Japanese-born lottery pick in the NBA after the Washington Wizards drafted him at No. 9 overall.

That trajectory is important to note when considering Hachimura's age. He is 21 years old, which is on the older side for an NBA draft prospect in the age of one-and-dones. But, you could say he's only eight in basketball years.

That's not a technical term used by NBA front office executives, but the fact Hachimura is a "late bloomer" was one of the biggest selling points for the Wizards. That's how interim team president Tommy Sheppard described him on several occasions the night of the draft and the day after. And even majority owner Ted Leonsis referenced it when asked about the pick in an interview with the Washington Times over the weekend.

While reason may suggest a younger player has higher upside, the Wizards are looking beyond simple age. In Hachimura, they believe they have a player who could benefit from not having the year-round strain of AAU basketball in his past.

"When you come to the game a little bit later, maybe you don't have some bad habits that you accumulate. You don't have a lot of extra miles," Sheppard said. 

"Those kinds of things resonate with us. You have to be healthy to play in the NBA, and there are so many players in this particular draft that for whatever reason, there are a lot of sad faces tonight because I think medical held a lot of people back. He has a clean bill of health, and that's exciting to us."

Sheppard could have been referencing any number of prospects who carried the label as an injury risk into draft night. With the ninth overall pick, the Wizards took Hachimura over Duke's Cam Reddish, who has several red flags, injuries among them. In the second round, they passed on Oregon's Bol Bol, who had a stress fracture in his foot, in favor of Admiral Schofield.

But health isn't the only potential benefit of picking up the game at a later age. Sheppard alluded to the development of bad habits. He thinks Hachimura is more of a blank canvas for the coaching staff and that could work in their favor long-term.

Sheppard made a comparison for Hachimura that was interesting for several reasons.

"With [Raptors forward] Pascal Siakam, you see what happens when guys come to the game a little late and what he was able to do. It's not the same, but if you ask me of someone who's story his reminds me of, it could remind you of something like that," Sheppard said.

Siakam's name was invoked over and over during the pre-draft process but more often to draw a parallel for Sekou Doumbouya of France. Sheppard was more so comparing the development track for Hachimura than the playing style, but it holds some weight.

There have been some famous cases of late bloomers in NBA history. Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Joel Embiid reportedly didn't start playing basketball until high school.

Duncan may be a good example of avoiding bad habits, as he is considered one of the most fundamentally sound players of all time. Olajuwon might be the most skilled big man in NBA history, and Embiid has a chance to become an all-time great.

What gives the Wizards hope that Hachimura will reach his potential and someday enjoy breakout success like Siakam has is his work ethic. The Wizards did deep background research on Hachimura, including through discussions with his college coach, Mark Few of Gonzaga.

They believe they found something in Hachimura that other teams may have overlooked.

"The things that you hope for and that you're optimistic about, they seem to be there. So, we're excited about that," Sheppard said. "It's really up to Rui and how bad do you want to be good?"

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