Nationals

Packers rely on fresh faces amid slew of injuries

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Packers rely on fresh faces amid slew of injuries

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The kids really are all right.

The Green Bay Packers' defense is relying on many fresh-faced rookies this season, both by design and because of injuries, and so far they're delivering - and forming a close bond in the process.

``When you're a rookie class, you tend to spend a lot of time together - you've got meetings together, events you have to attend together - and you just naturally create a bond,'' said undfrafted rookie outside linebacker Dezman Moses.

``The older guys when you first come in, they're handling their business, not really too concerned with bringing the young guys along at that point because they don't know who's going to be there and who's not (when the season starts). So you're really looking to your rookie teammates and leaning on each other.''

And it's that bond - part competition, part shared experience, part friendship - that is paying off big for the Packers these days, according to the young guys involved.

``It's definitely a competitive-type relationship that we all have,'' said Moses, who will make his second straight start in place of injured star outside linebacker Clay Matthews on Sunday night at the New York Giants.

``We all get along great, but at the same time, we kind of challenge each other to make plays. Just joking around, seeing who can do what as teammates, challenging each other. I think it's good to challenge each other. We all know what we do well. It helps the team overall. When you challenge an elite athlete, they usually step up.''

And that's exactly what's happened. That competition is among players at every level of the defense - on the line, at linebacker, in the secondary - and it's fostering an environment of improvement.

Of course, the fact that the Packers are playing so many young players on defense hardly qualifies as news. In the Packers' draft-and-develop approach to their roster, it's simply how they do things. That said, to be getting the quality of play they're getting from their young'uns, well, now that is newsworthy.

``Our young guys are stepping up big-time,'' 12-year veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. ``It's exciting for an older guy to see the young players come in and make the impact they're making. They're giving this defense a big-time boost. They're making plays. They're playing like vets.''

At one point in last Sunday's victory at Detroit, the Packers had six rookies on the field: Moses, safeties Sean Richardson and Jerron McMillian, defensive linemen Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, and cornerback Casey Hayward, who with his team-leading five interceptions is stating a very strong case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year consideration. (Rookie outside linebacker Nick Perry, the team's first-round pick, is on season-ending injured reserve following wrist surgery.)

``Our whole focus coming into this season was to be a more athletic football team, to be a more well-rounded football team, and I feel like we've definitely accomplished that from a personnel standpoint, and you're seeing that come together as a football team,'' said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team used its first six draft picks on defensive players after finishing last season ranked dead last in the 32-team NFL in yards allowed.

``I thought our young players have played extremely well. Casey Hayward was extremely productive (against the Lions). McMillian, he played very well. I thought Dezman Moses played extremely well in his first opportunity at outside linebacker playing a full game, the number of snaps that he had. Defensively, we graded out very well. It clearly was a strength of our performance.''

For the season, Hayward, who has taken over as a starter at cornerback since Sam Shields, who was also playing well, went down with a sprained ankle Oct. 14 at Houston, has a team-high 16 pass breakups, 35 tackles and one forced fumble to go along with his five INTs, one of which came against the Lions.

Moses has two sacks and also forced a fumble against the Lions. Daniels and Worthy each have two sacks. (Daniels also recovered the fumble that Moses forced at Detroit). McMillian has one interception (he had another one wiped out at Seattle Sept. 24 by a penalty), recovered a fumble/lateral against the Lions and ranks third on the team in pass breakups with 11.

``The new guys view it as an opportunity. They know that they've got to take advantage of it,'' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. ``That's what this game is all about: When the opportunity presents itself, you've got to be ready, you've got to go out and perform. We've had a number of young guys that have done that.''

NOTES: The Packers ruled out four players for Sunday: Matthews, CB Sam Shields (ankle), S Charles Woodson (collarbone) and ILB Terrell Manning (shoulder). WR Greg Jennings, who has missed the last six games with a lower abdominal muscle tear, is questionable but says he is playing. . Struggling kicker Mason Crosby, who enters Sunday night having missed seven of his last 13 kicks, including two last week at Detroit, had a ``pretty good'' week of practice, according to special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum. ``We need to make field goals. We've talked about it. It's time that Mason goes and has a good game,'' Slocum said.

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Nationals the latest team to extend protective netting in stadium

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Nationals the latest team to extend protective netting in stadium

The Nationals return to the nation’s capital Monday night for their first homestand of the season’s second half. When they do, players and fans may notice a slight change at Nationals Park: extended netting.

The issue of extending protective netting down the lines of baseball stadiums has grown more and more prominent in recent years, especially with the rash of avoidable injuries fans are incurring on foul balls.

As hitters have grown stronger and exit velocities have skyrocketed, it’s become harder for fans in certain sections to protect themselves or their children from these dangerous shots into the crowd.

More and more teams have announced plans to extend the netting at their stadiums all the way down the lines, though it’s come with a little (misguided) controversy.

Monday night marks the debut of the Nationals’ extended netting.

“Throughout Major League Baseball there have been some tragic incidents this year,” Nationals VP of Public Safety and Security Scott Fear explained in a statement priovided by the team. “So we at the Washington Nationals decided to extend the netting to make sure our fans are safe.”

“And that’s what this is all about,” Fear continued. “We want to protect our fans, the children, the adults, everyone that comes to the game, to make sure they have a great time without worrying about being hurt.”

Perhaps in anticipation of some pushback from fans concerned about a diminished view, the Nats were quick to describe the new netting as being nearly see-through.

Plus, with the changes, the Nationals installed retractable netting, allowing it to come down prior to gametime. This will afford fans even more opportunities to interact with players and ask for pregame autographs and pictures.

“This is something we feel is going to be very positive, and our fans will feel safe being here watching the game,” Fear concluded.

Ultimately, safety should be the number one priority of any major franchise, the Nationals included. They are one of the first teams to embrace this change in the name of safety, and they certainly won’t be the last.

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Trent Williams will not report to Richmond to open training camp, per report

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Trent Williams will not report to Richmond to open training camp, per report

Trent Williams will not report to training camp this week when the Redskins head to Richmond to officially begin their 2019 season, according to NFL Network.

The news comes as no surprise, as Williams missed all of the Redskins voluntary offseason workouts and skipped the team's mandatory minicamp in June. Reports streamed out that Williams was upset about his contract and looking for a new deal -- not to mention reports that he was angry with the team's medical staff after a missed diagnosis with a growth on his scalp. 

Williams has made no official statements, and the Redskins organization offered very little in terms of a timeline for his return. Washington team president Bruce Allen said he knows "the truth" about Williams' situation, and head coach Jay Gruden said he hoped things would be resolved before Week 1 in Philadelphia. 

A seven-time Pro Bowler, Williams is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL. He's an immensely talented offensive lineman with two years remaining on his deal. Beyond the medical situation, Williams could be upset that in 2020, the final year of his deal, there is hardly any guaranteed cash. The team could release Williams with less than $2 million in salary cap penalty and save nearly $13 million against the cap. 

Without Williams, the Redskins could be in real trouble. Second-year pro Geron Christian did not seem capable of playing at a starting tackle level last fall, and that was before a knee injury landed him on IR. Morgan Moses should be locked in as the right tackle, but opposite him in Williams' spot will be dicey. 

Multiple sources with the Redskins and around the NFL suggested more cash could change Williams' mind before Week 1, and for now, it looks like the 31-year-old will be waiting for that increased payday. If Williams missed actual games, he would begin to lose money from this year's $14 million salary.

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