Redskins

Panthers pass rush bright spot in losing season

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Panthers pass rush bright spot in losing season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The Carolina Panthers' pass rush has proven to a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season.

Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have combined for 15 sacks in the past six games making them the NFL's second-most productive sack tandem in the league behind only Denver's Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

Not bad for a pair that coach Ron Rivera describes as having ``completely different personalities.''

Rivera said he wouldn't trade the tandem for any in the NFL, adding ``as our defensive line has grown, our defense has gotten better.''

Carolina's 16th-ranked defense has held opposing offenses to 20 points or less in each of their last five games. Unfortunately for the Panthers, four of those games have resulted in defeats as Cam Newton and the offense continues to struggle.

Johnson and Hardy have formed a formidable duo, even if they both admit they're nothing alike.

Johnson is more of the calm veteran who rarely loses his cool.

Hardy is the emotional one, the guy who paints his entire face on game day and transforms himself into an alter-ego he calls ``Kraken.''

``Greg is more excitable, loud and, well, I guess you'd say kind of a wild boy,'' Johnson said. ``I'm just cool and calm and I like to work. I like to earn everything I get.''

Hardy has always been a bit of a wild card.

He came to training camp in 2011 with his body beat up after a motorcycle accident in Tennessee left him with severe skin abrasions. Hardy traded that motorcycle in for a Bentley, but drew the ire of coaches this past offseason when he Tweeted a picture of his speedometer reading 100 miles per hour.

Even Rivera admits Hardy is ``a little off the wall'' but that ``he's all business when it comes to the game. He's fiery and emotional.''

Hardy laughs when he hears others' perception of him.

``What people don't understand is it's a persona, an attitude,'' Hardy said. ``I have to get hyped for a game. If you're not ready for the game, it will hit you in the face and you'll wind up on IR (injured reserve).''

Johnson, now in his sixth NFL season, has developed into a true pro, Rivera said.

When linebacker Jon Beason went down with an injury Rivera asked Johnson to step out of character a bit and put the ``C'' on his jersey for team captain. That's a role even Johnson wasn't quite comfortable with at first, admitting that he doesn't view himself as a vocal leader.

But Rivera said leading by example is just fine, too.

``I think he has matured into the type of player we envisioned he could be,'' Rivera said of Johnson, the highest-paid player in team history after inking a six-year, $76 million contract in 2011.

Johnson has 8.5 sacks this season and is on pace to shatter his career-high of 11.5. Hardy already has established a new career-best (6.5 sacks) with seven games remaining.

Together they've combined to force six fumbles and recovered two.

They'll be tested on Sunday when the Panthers host red hot Tampa Bay, which has won four of its last five games.

Quarterback Josh Freeman has been on fire during that span with 13 touchdown passes and one interception.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano said his team will have its hands full.

``The thing I love is the way they play, some of them are really finesse moves and stuff, you sit there and go `Wow,''' Schiano said. ``A lot of those sacks are just hard effort and playing sacks that they just outwork the guy that's blocking them and get to the quarterback. We know we're really, really going to have to strain our guts out to protect Josh and it's a huge challenge for us.''

Carolina's pass rushing duo started the season off slow, failing to register a sack in the first three games of the season.

Rivera believes the turnaround is due in part to veteran defensive tackles Ron Edwards and Dwan Edwards getting settled in on defense. Ron Edwards, the big body gap-filler up front, missed all of first season in Carolina with a torn triceps, while Dwan Edwards has been a huge free agent acquisition this year contributing five sacks.

``It helps when you can get a push from inside at the three-technique spot,'' Rivera said.

The Panthers lost 36-14 to the Broncos this past Sunday, but only 20 came at the hands of Peyton Manning and Denver's offense.

The other 16 came from Denver's defense and special teams.

Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott believes holding the last five offenses to 20 points or less is major progress from 2011.

``I'm not taking anything away from the wins and losses (because) that's the most important thing of our business,'' McDermott said. ``But I've got a goal as a defensive coordinator and a vision, and we're moving forward toward that vision. Anybody who was at the field saw that those guys played tough, aggressive football through and through until the end of the game.''

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Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

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Zach Brown says Redskins defense will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor during joint practices

Terrelle Pryor made a number of highlight reel catches last year during training camp, and it appears the Redskins defense didn't like it. 

Washington's marquee free agent signing last season, Pryor came into Richmond with sky-high expectations. Throughout the training sessions last August, Pryor put on one-handed displays at the Jugs machine and often made big catches in team drills. It's also important to remember there was never any live tackling during these drills, leaving defenders at a distinct disadvantage. 

Zach Brown remembers the scene quite well, and thinks it will look very different this summer when Pryor comes to Richmond as a member of the New York Jets. 

"That’s going to be something right there. The boys are gonna have it out for him. We can put hands on him now," Brown said on Inside the Locker Room on the Team 980 (full audio here).

Brown explained that Redskins coach Jay Gruden would not allow the defense to hit Pryor last year, even when the wideout did some showboating. 

"Jay ain't here to protect you anymore," Brown said.

The Redskins linebacker explained that he tried to explain to Pryor that the one-handed catches from training camp would not translate in the NFC East, where players get hit hard. It doesn't seem like Pryor listened, as he finished the season with only 240 receiving yards on 20 catches in nine games. 

"The boys were already hot for what he was doing last year," Brown said. He added, "Try to one-hand something while you’re with the Jets, you’re gonna catch a forearm."

One incident that supports Brown's comments came when Bashaud Breeland got thrown off the practice field last training camp. Breeland got mad that he wasn't allowed to get physical with Pryor at the line of scrimmage, and the scene blew up. Breeland eventually got sent off the field after arguing with coaches. 

The Jets visit the Redskins for three days of practices beginning August 12th. The two teams then square off in the second preseason game on August 16th. 

Brown will get his chance at Pryor, assuming the wideout plays. Pryor finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve, but is expected to be fine once training camp begins in New York. 

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

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Fantasy Baseball Outlook: Week 12

We're just a couple of weeks away from the midway point of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, which means many casual fantasy baseball players have collectively turned their attention to the gridiron. This is good news for those of you still interested, because outside of the truly competitive leagues, it's about to get much easier to navigate the waiver wire and make winning trades.

That said, we'll still be here all season long, providing advice for anyone looking to gain a competitive edge in their fantasy leagues. There's a lot to digest in the upcoming week, as many teams (including the Washington Nationals) will play a full seven game slate. It's an especially great time for stars in baseball, as a whopping six players are on pace to record seasons with 8.7 Wins Above Replacement or higher, but there's still plenty of great options beyond the obvious guys.

NOTE: Don’t expect to see guys like Bryce Harper or Trea Turner mentioned too often. They are clear must-starts every week. Don’t overthink it.

Week 12 (6/18-6/24)

One Nationals pitcher to start: Max Scherzer

We won't often include a guy on the level of Mad Max in our recommendations, but consider this a statement against the other pitchers. With Stephen Strasburg on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is really the only other startable option in the rotation, and while he's a fine play against the Orioles, he's not a sure thing. Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball, so when in doubt, it's easy to fall back on his name. For now, feel free to use Gonzalez if needed, but the only clear, recommendable one this week is Scherzer.

One Nationals position player to start: Adam Eaton, OF

Consider this your reminder to not get cute and just start Adam Eaton whenever he's healthy. When he can manage to avoid time on the disabled list, he's consistenly been one of the best players in Washington, and an absolute must-start in fantasy. Yes, he's hitting "just" .286 in five games since returning from the DL, but there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back to one of the top hitters in the National League once he gets back in the swing of things. As long as he's hitting at the top of the Washington lineup, he'll be one of the top run producers in baseball.

One Nationals pitcher to sit: Erick Fedde

We likely would have advised against starting Fedde regardless of matchup, given his relative struggles in his two starts with the Nats this season. He's got a nice 9:2 strikeout-to-walk rate, but the ERA sits at an unsightly 5.91. What makes matters worse is the matchup; Fedde is once again slated to face the vaunted New York Yankees lineup. In New York, he allowed two home runs in just five innings, and while Nats park isn't the hitter's haven that Yankee Stadium is, the sluggers in their lineup make for a daunting matchup in any city.

Fedde probably isn't owned in most leagues, and there's no reason for that to change, even with his spot in the rotation likely secure as long as Strasburg isn't throwing.. 

One Nationals player to sit: Daniel Murphy, 2B

Nats fans were understandably rejoicing when Daniel Murphy returned to the lineup last week. It's always fun when one of your stars is back on the field after missing so much time. Still, like most players who haven't face in-game pitching in several months, Murphy has been slow to re-adjust at the plate. He's recorded just two hits in 15 at-bats, has only walked once, and has yet to notch an extra-base hit of any kind. His OPS is below-.200, and while no one should expect that to last, there's no need to rush him back into your lineups either.

It would be pretty tempting to slot Murphy into your 2B or middle infield spot now that he's healthy, since you likely drafted him to be one of your studs, but given his lengthy absence, the nature of his original injury, and his slow start since returning, it's probably a good idea to leave him on your bench for a week or two. Once he starts driving the ball again, he can start to return value for you, but there's no reason to let him drag you down in the meantime.

Any 2-start pitchers for the Nationals this week?

Given that the rotation is currently in a state of flux, we can't confidently say any starter will get two starts. Fedde looks like the most likely candidate, but as we outlined above, he's still a pitcher you want to avoid for now.

Any 2-start pitchers worth streaming around MLB this week?

One of my favorite sleepers this week is Domingo German. One of the most surprising stats in all of baseball right now is that among starting pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched, German has the second best swinging strike rate, behind only Max Scherzer. Swinging strike rate is a great stat to use when projecting future strikeout potential, and German's 15.9% is mighty impressive. German has a start at home against the Mariners and on the road against the Rays, so while it's not a cakewalk week, it's not especially daunting either. As an added bonus for those in points leagues, German is RP-eligible, giving you some extra roster flexibility.

The walks are a little high (21 in 53.3 innings) which has let to an elevated WHIP and ERA, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow the strikeouts when identifiying quality fantasy pitchers, and considering most of the two-start guys this week are obvious studs who are certainly already owned in your league, German is the exact type of option you should be looking to stream.

One player you might not realize you should pick up: John Hicks, C/1B (Tigers) 

This is a sneaky move, the kind that could easily get overlooked in most fantasy leagues but could provide a great return on investment. With Miguel Cabrera's unfortunate season-ending biceps injury providing an opening in the everyday lineup in Detroit, Hicks (who is catcher elgibile) will be taking most of the team's at-bats at first base going forward. While he's probably not worth rostering as a first baseman in most leagues, catcher is a notorious black hole in fantasy baseball in recent years, and this season might be the wost yet.

Hicks will maintain catcher eligibility all season long, yet he'll play the far less demanding first base every day, giving him less wear and tear on his legs, less concern with running the pitching staff, and most importantly, regular at-bats in a surprisingly not-atrocious lineup. Hicks isn't the type of guy you'd refer to as a league-winner prior to Opening Day, but he could make a real impact on a championship roster in the second half of the season.

One player you might not realize you should drop: Jake Junis, SP (Royals) 

Junis isn't the type of pitcher that I'd classify as a must-drop, but you shouldn't hesitate to move on if there's a clear better option on the waiver wire. Junis started the season strong and looked like a legitimate breakout player, but he's allowed six earned runs in each of his last two starts. A poor two-start stretch isn't the end of the world, which is why I'm not suggest that everyone jump ship regardless of team context. That said, he doesn't have the pedigree of a top pitching prospect, and he plays for one of the five worst teams in baseball, meaning you can't expect many wins even when Junis is throwing well.

At the very least, you prbably should leave Junis on the bench for the time being, and again, if there's an option you've been eyeing on the waiver wire, now is the time to strike. Don't feel bad if that means leaving Junis behind to free up a roster spot for your team.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Nice Threads: MLB reveals All-Star jerseys
- Rankings Update: Where did the Nats fall?
- On the Farm: Latest Nats prospect report