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McClain adjusts to limited role with Raiders

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McClain adjusts to limited role with Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Rolando McClain arrived in Oakland two years ago expected to be the impact middle linebacker who could transform a Raiders defense that had struggled for years to stop the run.

Less than halfway through his third season with the Raiders, McClain has been relegated to spot duty. McClain is now only being used in base defensive packages, playing a season-low 17 defensive plays last week in Atlanta.

While McClain figures to get more time Sunday against the more run-oriented Jacksonville Jaguars, he will remain a part-time player for the time being.

``It makes my job easy, just focus on base whenever that is and go from there,'' McClain said Thursday. ``You understand the situation, you understand the transition whatever that may be. You're not naive to the fact of what's going on. But at the same time you're still a team player. If coach thinks that's the best thing for the defense then by all means do it. I can focus on the base downs and that's what I put my energy toward.''

A heralded college star at Alabama who helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship, McClain came to Oakland as the eighth overall pick in 2010.

But he has failed to produce, recording just 5 1/2 sacks, one interception, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries in 35 career games.

McClain averaged about 68 defensive snaps a game the first four weeks, staying on the field in almost all of Oakland's alignments. But the coaches reassessed things during the bye week and decided to take McClain out of the nickel package.

That led him to play only 17 of 55 defensive snaps last week in a 23-20 loss at Atlanta.

``I think when we went back and looked and saw how many plays that Rolando was playing, it had a factor in his conditioning,'' coach Dennis Allen said. ``We felt like him not playing quite as many plays would help him to play better and be more effective, and I think it had that effect in this game.''

Allen said McClain had his most productive game on a per play basis this season in the limited time, with his biggest contribution coming when he stopped Jason Snelling for a 1-yard loss on third down from the 1 late in the third quarter.

``You make the plays that are there to make,'' McClain said. ``Every ball doesn't come into your area. Every run doesn't come your way. You're not able to make every tackle.''

With McClain set to make more than $4 million next year and a possible suspension for legal trouble off the field looming, he could be in his final season with the Raiders.

McClain was convicted in May in Decatur, Ala., of third-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm in the city limits and was sentenced to 180 days in jail. McClain is appealing the conviction to Morgan County Circuit Court and will have a jury trial, likely after the season. The NFL has not yet determined if McClain will be punished by the league.

The Raiders were forced into a five defensive back set much of last week against the Falcons, who often spread the field out with three wide receivers. That doesn't figure to be the case Sunday.

Jacksonville has a struggling second-year quarterback in Blaine Gabbert and an elite runner in Jones-Drew so it figures the Jaguars will stick with the run game and McClain will get more time.

The last time these two teams met, the Jaguars ran for 234 yards in a 38-31 victory that McClain missed with a foot injury.

``All I remember is them running the ball,'' McClain said. ``You have to take that personally. We have to go out and try to at least stop that run. If you don't do anything else, stop the run, let them know you can't do this two times in a row.''

The demotion of McClain led to significantly more playing time for rookie outside linebacker Miles Burris, who had been leaving the field in nickel situations the first four games.

It also meant that outside linebacker Philip Wheeler had to take on additional responsibility. Wheeler was given the ``green dot'' helmet, allowing him to hear the defensive calls from an assistant coach on the sideline, and made the calls on the field for the Raiders.

Wheeler said he made defensive calls in college but had never before done it in the pros.

``It makes me work harder,'' Wheeler said. ``It's forced me to get in the film room more, so I can make better calls and do what's right for the defense, and I'm up to the job.''

NOTES: CB Shawntae Spencer (sprained right foot) is off crutches for the first time since getting hurt in Week 2 in Miami but is not yet ready to practice. ... RB Taiwan Jones did not practice after banging his knee Wednesday. ... RT Khalif Barnes (groin) and TE Richard Gordon remain sidelined. ... LB Aaron Curry, who began the season on the physically unable to perform list because of injured knees, practiced for a second straight day. ... The Raiders have been granted a one-day extension from the league to sell enough tickets to avoid a local blackout of Sunday's game.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

West Virginia, Penn State drop in new AP top 25 poll

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USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia, Penn State drop in new AP top 25 poll

After four of the top eight teams lost, The Associated Press college football poll had a new look behind No. 1 Alabama, with Ohio State reaching No. 2, LSU jumping back to No. 5 and Michigan moving into the top 10 for the first time this season.

The Crimson Tide received all but one of the 61 first-place votes from the media panel Sunday, with Ohio State receiving the other. No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Notre Dame also moved up a spot. LSU jumped eight after handing Georgia its first loss of the season. The Bulldogs slipped from No. 2 to No. 8.

No. 6 Michigan has its best ranking of the season after blowing out Wisconsin and Texas is up two spots to No. 7.

No. 9 Oklahoma moved back into the top 10 while it was idle and Central Florida remained No. 10.

COMPLETE AP TOP 25 POLL

1. Alabama 7-0 (60 first-place votes, no change from last week)

2. Ohio State 7-0 (1 first-place vote, No. 3 last week)

3. Clemson 6-0 (No. 4 last week)

4. Notre Dame 7-0 (No. 5 last week)

5. LSU 6-1 (No. 13 last week)

6. Michigan 6-1 (No. 12 last week)

7. Texas 6-1 (No. 9 last week)

8. Georgia 6-1 (No. 2 last week)

9. Oklahoma 5-1 (No. 11 last week)

10. UCF 6-0 (No change from last week)

11. Florida 6-1 (No. 14 last week)

12. Oregon 5-1 (No. 17 last week)

13. West Virginia 5-1 (No. 6 last week)

14. Kentucky 5-1 (No. 18 last week)

15. Washington 5-2 (No. 7 last week)

16. NC State 5-0 (No. 20 last week)

17. Texas A&M 5-2 (No. 22 last week)

18. Penn State 4-2 (No. 8 last week)

19. Iowa 5-1 (Not ranked last week)

20. Cincinnati 6-0 (No. 25 last week)

21. South Florida 6-0 (No. 23 last week)

22. Mississippi State 4-2 (No. 24 last week)

23. Wisconsin 4-2 (No. 15 last week)

24. Michigan State 4-2 (Not ranked last week)

25. Washington State 5-1 (Not ranked last week)

Virginia and Maryland are among those that received votes, with each team getting two apiece.

POLL POINTS

Eight ranked teams overall lost Saturday, including three previously unbeaten teams. Joining Georgia among the previously undefeated on Saturday were West Virginia and Colorado.

UP

All the losses up and down the rankings meant plenty of movement. Joining LSU and Michigan as teams that gained at least four spots were:

-- No. 12 Oregon jumped five after beating Washington in overtime. The Ducks have their best ranking since September 2015.

-- No. 17 Texas A&M moved up five after edging South Carolina on the road.

-- It was a good week to be idle and watch teams plummet. No. 14 Kentucky and No. 16 North Carolina State each gained four spots in an idle week, and No. 20 Cincinnati moved up five.

DOWN

-- No. 13 West Virginia lost at Iowa State and fell seven spots after reaching a season high last week.

-- No. 15 Washington dropped eight spots after losing at Oregon.

-- No. 18 Penn State's second straight close home loss, this time to Michigan State, dropped the Nittany Lions 10 spots.

-- No. 23 Wisconsin, which started the season ranked fourth, dropped eight spots after its second loss.

OUT

-- Colorado reached No. 19, racking up wins against a weak schedule, but USC manhandled the Buffaloes in Los Angeles and now they are unranked.

-- Miami, which started the season at No. 8, is out altogether after losing at Virginia.

-- Auburn, which started the season ninth, is out and no longer receiving votes after getting beat at home by Tennessee and falling to 4-3.

IN

-- Iowa surged into the rankings for the first time this season at No. 19.

-- No. 24 Michigan State is back in after a week out.

-- No. 25 Washington State moved in just in time to host ESPN's "College GameDay" for the first time ever with Oregon coming to town. Getting to Pullman, Washington, is notable for the show because for years it has been followed around by Wazzu fans waving the `Ol Crimson school flag.

CONFERENCE CALL

A week after the Southeastern Conference placed a season-high eight teams in the poll, the SEC lost one and the Big Ten gained two. The ACC has only two ranked team for the first time since Oct. 4, 2015, when Clemson was No. 6 and Florida State was No. 12. The Tigers played for in the national championship game that season.

SEC -- 7 teams (1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 23).

Big Ten -- 6 (2, 6, 18, 19, 22, 24).

American -- 3 (10, 20, 21).

Big 12 -- 3 (7, 9, 13).

Pac-12 -- 3 (12, 15, 25).

ACC -- 2 (3, 16).

Independent -- 1 (4).

RANKED vs. RANKED

No. 16 North Carolina State at No. 3 Clemson. The ACC's only ranked and unbeaten teams meet in a game that will likely go a long way toward settling the Atlantic Division.

No. 22 Mississippi State at No. 5 LSU. This will be the fourth ranked team the Tigers have faced -- though two (Miami and Auburn) are no longer.

No. 6 Michigan at No. 24 Michigan State. Another chance for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines to flipped the narrative.

No. 12 Oregon at No. 25 Washington State. The Ducks look to make it an Evergreen State sweep.

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Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

Redskins need a winning streak to convince legion of skeptics

If you want to, you can find plenty of things wrong with the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Panthers. The home team was up 17-0 in the second quarter and yet had to hang on as the Panthers reached the red zone with a chance to win in the last minute. The game got tight because the Redskins continued their second-half scoring problems, putting up just six points. Alex Smith passed for just 153 yards. 

But you can’t poke holes in the fact that the Redskins are 3-2 and in first place in the NFC East. Sure, there is a long way to go. But consider this—a Redskins schedule that looked rough at the beginning of the season doesn’t look quite as tough. In fact, right now the Redskins have a better winning percentage than any team they will play in their remaining 11 games. 

Yes, that’s right. They have six games to play in the division, two each against the Cowboys and Eagles, both now 3-3, and the 1-5 Giants. Their two remaining games against the NFC South are against the 2-3 Bucs and the 2-4 Falcons. The schedule is rounded out with games against three AFC South teams, the Titans, Texans, and Jaguars. All three of those teams are tied atop the division at 3-3. 

Of course, you can’t expect all of these teams to still be wallowing around .500 when they face the Redskins. It looks like the Eagles and Falcons are on the upswing and in today’s NFL any team can get hot at any time. 

And, as the Redskins demonstrated in their Week 2 loss to the Colts, they are capable of losing to a weak team. They still have plenty of issues they have to correct if they plan on maintaining their winning record and staying in contention for the division title. They won’t survive if they continue to have difficulty scoring in the second half (their only second-half TD this season came in garbage time against the Saints). They need to get more sacks from Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith, who have one combined. Plenty of details need to be ironed out. 

But the fact that they are a flawed team doesn’t take away from the fact that they got a quality win over the Panthers. Carolina was 3-1, coming off of an 11-5 playoff season. On top of that, the Redskins had not beaten the Panthers since 2006, a stretch that included an 0-4 record against Cam Newton. They didn’t commit a turnover for the first time this year and they got a season-high three takeaways. Christian McCaffrey came into the game averaging 83 yards per game and left it averaging 70 after picking up 20 yards on eight carries. 

With all of that said, the Redskins still have to overcome their inconsistency. They have won two games in a row just twice since the beginning of the 2017 season. Nobody is going to believe that anything is different about the Redskins until they can string together three or four wins in a row. Until then, skepticism will abound. 

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