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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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Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Tight end Vernon Davis has seen the Washington Redskins go through many ups and downs since becoming a part of the organization in 2016, but the 2018 season brought a new set of challenges.

Two injured quarterbacks headlined the Redskins' 7-9 season and fans were once again calling for team president Bruce Allen's job.

In a rare media availability during Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, Allen noted how "close" he felt the Redskins were to reaching the postseason but his continued lack of transparency is something that does not sit well with Redskins fans.

Davis, speaking Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, is standing by the team's president.

"I strongly believe, like I said before, we have the pieces to win games."

"Bruce and Dan [Snyder], those guys are constantly sitting in their office trying to find ways to win. It's not like they're not doing a great job with it. I believe in them. I believe that they're going to make the right decision to do the best they can do to help us win football games around here because that's what they're there for. Bruce is there to make sure that we're a championship team. Make sure that we're winning. Making sure that we have all the pieces when it comes to different positions on the football field. So, they're doing just that.

Allen has continued to praise the Redskins fans for their passion throughout the offseason. But if you know the Redskins, don't expect many changes to take place. 

And if it's hard for you to hang on to the little insight Allen provides Redskins fans with in regards to the future of the organization, Davis urges fans to keep holding on. 

"I wouldn't quite count him out. I just say have patience and continue to support the Washington Redskins." 

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

News that the “grit ‘n grind” era is apparently ending in Memphis effectively tips off the NBA trade deadline rumors.

No shock if the John Wall and Dwight Howard-less Washington Wizards receive a mention or two for deals involving Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Mention and final destination are different worlds, of course.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Grizzlies are finally open to hearing trade offers for their two franchise stalwarts. They never reached the level of other famed big man/guard tandems, but Gasol and Conley were at the center of a seven-year run of playoff appearances peaking with the 2013 Western Conference finals.

With age and injuries striking the duo, Memphis slipped in recent years. The postseason streak ended last season. After a hot start to the 2018-19 campaign including an early-season win over the Wizards, the Grizzlies have lost 12 of 13, falling to 19-28 overall. While that record would not automatically end playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference, it slots Memphis 14th out of 15 teams in the West.

As NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman noted, finding a trade partner will not come easy for the Grizzlies.

Gasol, 33, has a player option next season for $25.6 million. That’s a huge number for a center in this perimeter-oriented era on top of the $24.1 million the three-time All-Star is earning this campaign. Gasol’s highly skilled game is showing signs of decline, though his basic statistical numbers (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks) remain helpful.

Conley, one of the NBA’s most underrated talents of his generation, offers lead guard, leadership skills – and a financial challenge. From Feldman:

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

As Memphis’ season turned south, Washington surged, winning seven of its last 10 games to move into a ninth-place tie with Detroit. Still two games back of the eighth and final playoff berth, the Wizards could use general depth if not actual star power with Wall sidelined for the season. Howard (back surgery) and forward Markieff Morris (neck) face uncertain recovery timelines.

No disrespect to the Wall and Howard replacements, Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant, but Gasol and Conley would upgrade Washington at those positions. The cost, however, keeps such grandiose thoughts on the shelf. 

During the team’s recent London trip, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis emphatically stated the team would not consider throwing in the towel despite injuries and a losing record. That is not the same as stating the luxury-tax paying team would take on significant salary or trade coveted assets for help.

Washington’s 2019 first-round selection takes on additional importance because the team already exceeds next season’s salary cap with only five players under contract.

Now, if some creative mind conjures a trade that removes the final year of Ian Mahinmi’s four-year, $64 million contract from the books without sending Washington dramatically further into the tax or deals with Wall's trade kicker, hmmm.

If the Wizards decide the overall roster needs a dramatic shake-up, perhaps a deal centered on Wall and Conley gets interesting (Thanks, NBA trade machine, though maybe include draft picks already).

Wall’s run of recent surgeries combined with his four-year, $170 supermax contract kicking in next season and that substantial kicker may end all discussion. However, he is three years younger than Conley. Memphis, set to build around 19-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., could find that age factor appealing or use Wall/Conley to fascilitate a larger trade.

Other teams will offer more future-friendly deals for Gasol and Conley. The Wizards appear set in their belief the current roster, even with the injuries, can reach the playoffs. Therefore, it's wise setting aside the notion of a major move from Washington involving the Grizzlies’ stars or any other high profile/big salary players. Bookmark the trade machine page regardless. 

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