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O'Brien builds on NFL ties, experience, at Penn St

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O'Brien builds on NFL ties, experience, at Penn St

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) One of the biggest selling points first-year Penn State coach Bill O'Brien can make to potential recruits relates to his previous job.

Those NFL connections he made as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots are already coming in handy in Happy Valley. NFL scouts are regulars at Nittany Lions practices - another one of the bevy of changes in the new era of Penn State football.

``It's a little different because if you did something wrong, they're writing stuff down the whole time,'' said senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, of the team's top NFL prospects. ``You just think, `What are they writing?' But you have to get over it the best that you can.''

Having scouts at a college practice isn't unusual. But under the late coach Joe Paterno's watch at Penn State, it was an infrequent occurrence at best - maybe during a bye week, or before a low-pressure nonconference game.

Paterno, for sure, had NFL connections. It's hard not to after 46 years on the job. And he's had plenty of players drafted.

It's just that Paterno just wasn't one to have scouts over much.

Contrast that to Wednesday's low-key, off-week practice for the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten). Eleven NFL teams showed up, including the Broncos, Browns, Jets, Steelers and Vikings. O'Brien made it a point to talk to at a few of the scouts before practice.

``Having coached in the NFL, knowing a lot of these guys coming to practice and having relationships with them, I don't really see any problem with helping our players advance to the next level by opening up practice and giving these scouts another chance to evaluate our kids,'' O'Brien said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press.

It may also make for a positive picture on the recruiting trail for a program beset with NCAA sanctions.

``It helps. It doesn't even everything out, but it's just another pitch that you can make (to recruits) that you are on the same level as any Top 25 team,'' said Sean Fitz, the editor for the website Lions247, which follows Penn State recruiting.

O'Brien kept the NFL ties in mind when he put together his coaching staff after being hired in January. Perhaps not coincidentally, O'Brien hired assistants with NFL experience for the skill positions of receiver (ex-Buffalo Bills assistant Stan Hixon) and running back (ex-Tennessee Titan assistant Charles London).

Besides being offensive coordinator, O'Brien himself was the quarterback coach for Patriots star Tom Brady. For a day or two, that was the only thing that the Nittany Lions knew about O'Brien, especially his well-publicized sideline spat with Brady on national television after the quarterback threw an interception in the end zone last December in a 34-27 win over Washington.

Lately, the pro-style offense has been humming with senior Matt McGloin at quarterback. O'Brien's play-calling is bold and entertaining, and shows flashes of the high-octane offense he used to run in New England.

The strength program, too, was overhauled. One wall at the team's revamped weight room is devoted to team leaders in various events in offseason workouts similar to those studied by scouts at the combine, like the side-to-side ``football shuttle'' or the 40-yard dash.

Every Monday in the offseason is devoted to combine prep. The program includes combine-like contests at the end of each winter conditioning and summer workouts. ``By the time they've left here in four years, they've gone through their own combines four times,'' strength coach Craig Fitzgerald said.

The offseason program under Paterno favored a ``high-intensity'' training program with an emphasis on endurance. Players hit the exercise machines, hard.

Those machines are gone from the weight room, replaced by free weight stations, Olympic-style lifting and squats. Fitzgerald has called his philosophy ``all-inclusive,'' and features speed, agility, explosiveness and ``football-related flexibility.''

Again, it's a change in Happy Valley. The workout philosophy itself is fairly common, but the effervescent Fitzgerald boasts that Penn State is cutting-edge.

``We always tell them, `The No. 1 thing is very few of you guys will actually play in the NFL.' That's the reality of it,'' O' Brien said Tuesday. ``So the No. 1 goal should be to earn your degree and play as good as football as you can for us.''

O'Brien said he feels he owes it to his seniors. After all, he wants to show gratitude for sticking with the team after the offseason scrum that resulted when the NCAA allowed any Penn State player to leave following the sanctions. In the end, more than 90 percent the team stayed.

He also hopes that having NFL teams scouting at practice adds a buzz for a potential recruit.

``If you play well and produce on the field,'' O'Brien said, ``you're going to be seen at practice, games, and you're going to have a chance.''

Penn State next plays Oct. 20 at Iowa.

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After releasing Martez Carter the Redskins are thin at running back

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Associated Press

After releasing Martez Carter the Redskins are thin at running back

The Redskins are very thin at running back right now. 

Today at practice the Redskins had three running backs on the field. Rob Kelley and Kapri Bibbs are fully healthy while Chris Thompson is limited as he recovers from a broken leg he suffered last November. 

Injuries have hit the depth at running back. The most recent casualty was Martez Carter, who was waived with an injury designation. 

The move was surprising since Carter had some good runs against the Jets during their preseason game on Thursday and he did not appear to be injured during the game. 

Coach Jay Gruden did not offer any more details as to what the injury to Carter was, only that he is no longer with the team. 

Also sidelined with lower leg injuries are Samaje Perine and Byron Marshall. According to media reports, Perine will be out one week and Marshall for two to four. Gruden would not confirm the timelines, saying only that they are undergoing treatment and the timetable for their returns in unknown. 

The Redskins will bring in some running backs to try out on Sunday. They will need at least one and probably two in order to get through the upcoming preseason game against the Broncos on Friday. 

In other personnel moves, the Redskins waived linebacker Jeff Knox and defensive end Jalen Wilkerson and signed offensive tackle Kendall Calhoun, defensive back Darius Hillary, and wide receiver Allenzae Staggers. 

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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 and on Instagram @RichTandler

 

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Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

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NBC Sports Washington/USATSI

Alex Ovechkin and wife Nastya Ovechkina welcome baby boy

After lifting the Stanley Cup just over two months ago, something else very exciting has happened in Alex Ovechkin's life.

Saturday morning, Nastya and Alex Ovechkin welcomed their first child, a baby boy named Sergei, after Ovechkin's late brother. 

Ovi spent this week practicing at the Florida Panthers' facilities with other NHL players living in the surrounding area.

After the Cup's visit to Moscow, Nastya and Alex settled down at their apartment in Miami, staying put and preparing for the birth. 

The couple were married two years ago but didn't hold an official ceremony until July of last year. The celebration was as lavish as you'd expect.

She revealed her pregnancy shortly after the Cup victory, and has kept us up to date on life this summer via Instagram. A few weeks ago, the Ovechkins graced HELLO! Russia magazine, showing off Nastya's baby bump among their glamour shots.

💛 @aleksandrovechkinofficial #hello #hellorussia @hello__ru

A post shared by Nastasiya Ovechkina (@nastyashubskaya) on

Congratulations to Ovi and Nastya, and all our best wishes for health and happiness!

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