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Mauti, Hodges uphold PSU's 'Linebacker U' image

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Mauti, Hodges uphold PSU's 'Linebacker U' image

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Michael Mauti seemed antsy the way he leaned back and forth in his chair, fidgeted with his fingers and checked his phone.

And that was Mauti just having a conversation in a classroom. Now imagine the taut, 232-pound package of boundless energy wearing shoulder pads and a helmet and sporting a glare as if he were a bull ready to pounce on a matador.

Yup, Penn State's star linebacker is ready to go for Saturday night's showdown with No. 9 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten).

``To me, it's either you're all in or ... I don't really see any other way,'' Mauti said this week. ``They say, `Don't get too high, don't get too low. To me you don't get low - you just stay high.''

For added emphasis, Mauti motioned his hand above his head. It was only fitting for one of the most respected leaders on a defense that's getting better each week.

Tackle Jordan Hill leads the push up front for the Nittany Lions (5-2, 3-0). End Deion Barnes has emerged as a pass-rushing threat as a freshman. The secondary is playing better following early-season trouble on third downs.

But the beating heart of this defense lies at outside linebacker, where Mauti and fellow senior Gerald Hodges form one of the top one-two punches in the country.

The ``Linebacker U.'' reputation is in good hands.

``I wish I had a motor like them,'' Hill said about Mauti and Hodges. ``Even when they're talking, they're going full speed.''

Converted from safety his freshman year, Hodges' 54 tackles is second on the team - to Mauti's 65, of course. And yes, they do keep track of stats in a friendly competition.

They're each semifinalists for the Butkus Award given annually to the best collegiate linebacker. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, in his first year in Happy Valley, tweaked Penn State's already-solid schemes to add more looks and play with more aggression.

``Each and every game, and every practice, we motivate each other,'' Hodges said. ``It's not like he tells me his stats, and I get mad.''

Indeed, Hodges describes himself as the calmer of the two, at least off the field. On the field, Mauti and Hodges play like they could go 2-on-11 against the offense.

``On the field, we're basically the same exact person. The same exact intensity,'' Hodges said. ``But off the field, Mauti can't sit still ... He always has to be moving around.''

Not so fast, Gerald. Mauti's got a good description of his fellow linebacker, too, by virtue of the pregame routine last week before Penn State's 38-14 thrashing of Iowa.

The locker room in Iowa City was virtually silent except for one voice. Hodges, with his headphones on while preparing for the game, singing a rap song.

``He describes me as hyperactive? I would call him `sporadic,''' Mauti said, laughing. ``On the field, I mean he plays with the same energy, but then he gets in his own world. He's in `Gerald-world,' when he puts on his headphones and it's silent in the locker room.''

Whatever the pregame ritual, the play of Mauti and Hodges harkens of other recent dynamic Penn State linebacker duos.

In 2005 and 2006, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor hounded opposing running backs. In 2009, Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman wreaked havoc together all over the field.

Mauti could have joined Lee and Bowman in the middle that season had he not gone down with a season-ending injury to his right knee. He was playing well last season until another season-ending injury, this time to his left knee in Week 4.

``I recruited him hard at Florida. Loved him as a high school athlete,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ``He's a tough guy. He's a leader. ... He's playing his tail off after his knee injury.''

For all that intensity on the field, though, Mauti is ``really kind of meek and mild-mannered'' off the field, said his father, Rich Mauti, who also played for Penn State.

``Like many football players, when you hit that switch when you get down to the field, he's an extremely emotional player,'' the elder Mauti said recently. ``In the real world, he fits in perfectly ... he'd rather be behind the scenes than in front, believe it or not.''

But front and center is exactly where Mauti stood in late July, days after the NCAA levied its strict sanctions on Penn State for how the school handled the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The punishment included a four-year postseason, meaning Mauti and the other seniors wouldn't be able to finish their college careers at a bowl game.

The NCAA also allowed current players - Mauti included - to seek immediate transfers to other schools without having to sit out a year. The rumor mill spun out of control. Would Penn State even have a team to field in 2012?

Mauti and running back Michael Zordich stepped up. Surrounded by about two dozen players at a hastily-called news conference, Mauti and Zordich made an impassioned statement that they were staying in Happy Valley. Eventually, most other players followed suit, though the Nittany Lions did lose about 10 key players including tailback Silas Redd and kicker-punter Anthony Fera.

Mauti also wasn't shy about criticizing Illinois coach Tim Beckman for actively recruiting Penn State players over the summer. Mauti backed up his words with a star turn in last month's 35-7 rout of the Illini with six tackles and two interceptions, including a 99-yarder that set a school record.

Just five more games to go for Mauti to put on his blue-and-white uniform, starting with Saturday's tilt against the unbeaten Buckeyes. The senior in part credits Lee, now with the Dallas Cowboys, with instilling his every-second-counts intensity.

``Once you start feeling the clock, you've got less and less time,'' Mauti said. ``You've got to make the most of what you've got.''

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

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USA Today Sports Images

Wizards Tipoff podcast: Pre-draft workouts begin; Michigan's Moe Wagner goes 1-on-1

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Michigan star Moe Wagner after his workout with the Wizards.

Chris and Chase Hughes also gave their impressions of the first prospects to come in for pre-draft workouts, including which guys are most likely to be Wizards. One of those prospects is a point guard and a likely first round pick. Chase and Chris explain why that's not a crazy idea, even considering the presence of John Wall on their roster.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

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Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.