Redskins

Needing 2 TDs, Ball hopes to make mark at home

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Needing 2 TDs, Ball hopes to make mark at home

MADISON, Wis. (AP) Montee Ball is in charge of the entertainment for Wisconsin's senior day.

Needing just two touchdowns to become the all-time leader in major college football, the Badgers running back would like nothing more than to get the record Saturday when Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) hosts unbeaten Ohio State in Ball's final game at Camp Randall Stadium.

``It's going to be extra special to do it at home - if it happens,'' he said. ``It'd be ideal to break a record like that on home turf, in front of our fans.''

Ball has 77 career touchdowns after running for three scores against Indiana last weekend. That's two more than 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams, and one less than current FBS record holder Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio).

``It's pretty exciting. We take pride in that and having him be able to have the opportunity to break the record,'' receiver Jared Abbrederis said. ``It's been awesome watching him.''

Making Ball's run all the more impressive is that he didn't even become a starter - heck, a regular contributor - until midway through his sophomore season. Still, the career record seemed like a given after last year, when he scored 39 touchdowns to match Barry Sanders' long-standing single-season mark. The Heisman finalist would need only 18 TDs to pass Prentice, and he'd averaged almost three per game in his previous 20 games.

Then Ball was attacked by several men as he walked home Aug. 1 after a night out with friends. He was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head and chest, leaving him unconscious and with a concussion. The injuries sidelined him during training camp, and Ball - and the Badgers - continued to feel the effects as their season got off to a rocky start.

Ball was held scoreless in Wisconsin's loss at Oregon State, the first time he'd failed to score since Oct. 16, 2010, when he sat out the Badgers' upset of the then-No. 1 Buckeyes. After four games, he had just four touchdowns and had only topped 100 yards rushing twice.

``I stumbled a little bit out of gate, the first couple games of the season,'' Ball said. ``That goes back to not being able to practice during camp. I knew that was going to be the case and it was. . But it didn't take long to get back.''

Though Wisconsin lost late, Ball rushed for three touchdowns against Nebraska. He got two more in a romp over Illinois the next week. Then he really let loose, combining for 418 yards and five TDs against Purdue and Minnesota. He was held scoreless again in an overtime loss to Michigan State, but roared back with the three TDs and 198 yards rushing against the Hoosiers.

He now has 16 touchdowns this year, as many as Idaho's entire team.

``He'll be a fine NFL running back,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. ``He's got great vision, he's very durable. ... He's got great acceleration, much faster than I originally thought. He's a big-time, big-time back.''

With a big-time offensive line in front of him.

The Badgers have a long, proud history of stellar running backs - 1999 Heisman winner Ron Dayne is still the FBS' all-time leading rusher - and the Wisconsin linemen take pride in playing a part in that. Ball's name may wind up at the top of the touchdown list, but his line knows it paved the way for him to get there.

``He does most of the work out there and we get taken along for the ride sometimes,'' offensive tackle Rick Wagner said.

``That's one of the reasons we all came here and want to be O-linemen. We're going to get that chance to focus on the run,'' Wagner added. ``We don't want to be a big passing school here. We want to use the O-line to its full advantage.''

And they plan to do so Saturday.

Though Ball said he expects Ohio State to focus on shutting him down - ``I wouldn't want for anybody to break a record on me'' - Buckeyes linebacker Zach Boren said they're going to stick with what's worked for them so far. They've won 10 games, after all, and are No. 6 in the country. They've got the 16th-best run defense in the country, and have allowed only 11 rushing touchdowns.

``We have to go out there and play a perfect game and be on our game. If we're not, he'll be able to make big plays and make long runs,'' Boren said. ``We respect how good of a player he is, but we're not going to treat him or treat this game like it's anything different.''

Neither will the Badgers, coach Bret Bielema said. Though the entire team is anxious for Ball to get the record, and get it at home, he won't run plays simply to make that happen. And Ball's OK with that.

After the way this year started, he's just happy to be in a position to get the record.

``Just everything that happened to me this summer and coming out of the gates real slow, personally, I kind of thought it was way out of hand's reach,'' Ball said. ``But I'm really glad I stuck with it and kept fighting and kept pushing and kept working hard with my teammates in practice.''

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AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming week, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Defensive line

Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)

Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor

How the defensive line compares

To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star. 

Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances. 

Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months. 

Quote-unquote

Greg Manusky on Payne:

Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.

2018 position outlook series

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

 

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually exist. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclomations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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