Redskins

O'Brien, Penn State continue to roll on the road

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O'Brien, Penn State continue to roll on the road

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Somehow, some way, there's no letdown for Penn State away from Happy Valley.

Three Big Ten games away from home, three blowouts.

But after scoring big wins at Illinois, Iowa and plunging Purdue on the road, the surprising Nittany Lions will encounter their biggest road test of the season Saturday with a trip to No. 18 Nebraska.

``We've been playing well on the road I'd say because it just eliminates the distractions for us,'' linebacker Michael Mauti said Tuesday. ``Because all we need are the guys on the bus and the guys in the locker room.

``We create our own energy.''

Distractions have been plentiful for Penn State (6-3, 4-1) over the past year. It's a year to the week that a child sex abuse scandal was ignited by the arrest of ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, plunging one of the country's marquee football programs into turmoil.

But the resulting NCAA sanctions from the scandal haven't dampened the team's enthusiasm.

If anything, first-year coach Bill O'Brien has his team even more motivated to play every Saturday - even though both a conference title and bowl bid are out of reach. One of O'Brien's favorite sayings this year is ``Every game is a big game.''

``Some games we always wish that we could have back. We wish we could have coached better, played better, but when you have 12 opportunities, every single game is a big game,'' O'Brien said. ``This game is no bigger than any other game; it's just another big game, against a very, very good team.''

The Nittany Lions are still eligible to win the Leaders Division title, though those hopes took a serious hit with the 35-23 loss two weeks ago to No. 5 Ohio State.

But Penn State bounced back last week with a 34-9 win over Purdue. If anything, the off-the-field stress of the last year has helped train Penn State to stay focused on what they can control - what happens on the field.

``It doesn't matter what goes on around you,'' Mauti said. ``It's all about staying focused and ignoring the things that don't have to do with football.''

Mauti is the heart of a staunch defense that has had strong play all year from the front seven. Penn State, though, may not have standout defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who is listed as day-to-day with a left knee injury suffered against Purdue.

Mauti said Hill was feeling well and that the tackle was ``itching to play'' in what would be the last collegiate road game for Mauti, Hill and the other Penn State seniors. O'Brien said a final determination would be made later in the week on whether Hill would be able to play at Nebraska.

For all the attention on the front seven this year, the secondary has gradually improved its play this year after getting picked apart early in the season on third downs.

The unit came up with perhaps its best performance of the year last week. Against the Boilermakers, cornerbacks Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris contained Purdue's screen game with sure, open-field tackling, backed by safeties Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

It looks like ``Linebacker U'' is pretty comfortable now with the more aggressive schemes introduced by veteran defensive coordinator Ted Roof, in his first season at Penn State.

``I wouldn't say it took me a long time to learn the schemes, but it took me a while to get comfortable with the defense,'' said Morris, who was moved from the boundary cornerback spot to the field corner spot in the offseason.

The defense needs to be at its best to win at Nebraska, a site that figures to have a much different atmosphere than the ones encountered by Penn State at struggling Illinois and Purdue.

Either way, all three Big Ten road wins this season have been by at least 23 points. The key in each case has been Penn State's ability to jump out to big leads that have dampened crowd enthusiasm by halftime.

``Nebraska-Penn State, that's what college football is all about,'' O'Brien said. ``You have two big-time college football programs that have two good coaching staffs and a lot of good players playing in a great game in Lincoln. That atmosphere, hopefully it's fun.''

It will be even more fun for the Nittany Lions if they're able to fly back home Saturday night celebrating another `W.''

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NOTES: O'Brien said TE Kyle Carter is day-to-day. Carter, Penn State's second leading receiver with 35 catches and 441 yards, missed the win over Purdue after spraining his left ankle against Ohio State. Asked how involved Hill and Carter have been at practice, O'Brien would only say ``they've been able to do some things.'' ... Zack Zwinak had his third 100-yard game of the season after rushing for 134 on 21 carries against the Boilermakers. And he is now listed atop the tailback depth chart along with Bill Belton, who started this year as the starting tailback but was slowed by an ankle injury. O'Brien said the competition for carries is still week-to-week depending on who does well in practice. ``Everything you get is earned,'' O'Brien said. `` It's earned on the practice field.'' ... Backup RB Curtis Dukes is out with an undisclosed head injury. The junior was hurt while covering the opening kickoff last week.

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Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

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USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 25, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Fan questions—The secondary

To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about the secondary and we’ll get into those in a bit. But the popular notion that the secondary struggled last year is not accurate.

Do you want to go standard stats? They were ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and 10th in opponent passer rating last year.

Do you prefer more advanced analytics? They were sixth in defensive passing DVOA and 11th in adjusted net yards per attempt.

That’s not a great pass defense but it was a pretty good one. It should be noted that they also benefited from a solid pass rush; they were seventh in the league in sack percentage. Still, you don’t finish in the top third of the league in pass defense without at least a competent secondary.

The question is, will it remain competent? Kendall Fuller was indeed a key player, one of the best slot corners in the league. Bashaud Breeland was inconsistent, but he did shine on occasion. But the fact that he is still available as a free agent indicates what the league thinks of him, problems passing the physical notwithstanding. Those two will have to be replaced.

It is likely that Quinton Dunbar will take Breeland’s spot on the outside. That is at worst a lateral exchange if not an improvement. Dunbar has been working for three years to get this opportunity and there is confidence among the coaches and, perhaps more importantly, the players that he is ready.

Orlando Scandrick is the probable starter at slot. He is a downgrade from Fuller, no question about it. If he is healthy—a big if—Scandrick is good enough to get the job done. Don’t let the star he wore on the side of his helmet for so many years blind you to the fact that he’s a solid player.

The depth at slot consists of second-year player Josh Holsey, who played all of nine snaps on defense last year, and rookie Greg Stroman. That’s not ideal but most of the other teams in the NFL have a similar depth chart.

The wild card who could be the difference between this secondary being better than last year or worse is Fabian Moreau. He played only 59 defensive snaps as a rookie but he did show off his speed and hard-hitting style on some of his 349 special teams snaps. During the offseason practices that were open to the media, Moreau was mostly Josh Norman’s backup at left cornerback. The feeling is that he won’t remain a reserve. We will have to see how things sort out during training camp.

There should be some improvement at safety if Montae Nicholson figures out how to stay on the field in his second year. If he struggles with injuries again and Deshazor Everett has to line up alongside D.J. Swearinger for a good chunk of the season, the safeties are no worse off because that's what happened last year. 

The bottom line is that a secondary that was good last year may take a step down in 2018 but the decline should not be steep. And if Moreau can be the player the organization thought he could be when they used a third-round pick for him, it could be just as good if not better.

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.

Tandler on Twitter

I tweeted this in response to a discussion about the relative popularity of the NFL and NBA. Albert Breer’s tweet on the TV ratings for the leagues’ respective drafts was the nexus of the discussion.

Timeline  

Redskins cornerback Josh Holsey was born on this date in 1994.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 31
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 59

The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 76 days.

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.