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Patriots CB McCourty makes transition to safety

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Patriots CB McCourty makes transition to safety

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Devin McCourty made several costly mistakes at cornerback. At safety, the New England Patriots lost both starters to injury.

So they shifted McCourty to safety and, suddenly, the Patriots prospects at both positions look brighter.

A Pro Bowl player as a rookie in 2010, McCourty's athleticism and knowledge of the defense have made the transition easier to a position he played his first two seasons at Rutgers.

``Dev's a great athlete,'' safety Steve Gregory said. ``He's a smart football player. He understands what we're trying to do as a defense and he has the ability to play any position in the secondary, so he's done a great job.''

He wasn't doing so great at cornerback this year.

Several times he didn't turn to face the ball when a receiver went up for it. He was called for pass interference penalties - one that led to the winning field goal on the final play of a 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

But Gregory has missed the last four games with an injured hip and the other starting safety, Patrick Chung, has been sidelined two games with a shoulder injury. Both practiced on a limited basis this week and could be ready when the Patriots (5-3) play the Buffalo Bills (3-5) on Sunday.

If they're not, and maybe even if they are, McCourty would start his third straight game at safety.

He played there a bit last year and said he has no preference - ``whatever they tell me to play'' - but it's ``cool'' to get a wider view of the field playing deeper and in the middle at safety.

``It's different,'' he said. ``You get used to seeing more of the field and I think you have more of a responsibility since you have that viewpoint to let everyone else know, because I know when you're playing corner it's not as easy to see the different things that you see on film when you're on just that side of the field. So I try to just communicate and let guys know if I see anything from film study that might happen (and) just send that alert out.''

As a first-round draft choice out of Rutgers, McCourty had seven interceptions as a rookie. But he had just two last season before some poor games at cornerback this year.

The secondary seemed headed for another one when it allowed Sam Bradford's 50-yard touchdown pass to Chris Givens on the first series of the Patriots most recent game. But St. Louis didn't score again and they beat the Rams 45-7 in London two weeks ago.

McCourty spent part of the bye week in Montvale, N.J., where Superstorm Sandy knocked out power to his mother's house. He bought her a generator before the power came back on Tuesday. By that time, McCourty was back in Foxborough, preparing to play wherever coach Bill Belichick wants him.

``He's pretty good at everything,'' Belichick said. ``He's a good tackler. He's fast. He's instinctive. He has a good feel for the game wherever you put him in terms of leverage, angles, decisions, that kind of thing. He's smart. He has the mental flexibility to go back and forth between assignments.''

And he's willing to do that.

``He's a selfless player who just wants to do whatever he can to help the team win,'' safeties coach Brian Flores said. ``He has all the traits: he communicates, he's a focused player, he's smart, he does a lot of things well. He can make that transition. A lot of guys can't. I'm happy to have him.''

He's not the only one.

With three rookie draft picks starting or substituting in the secondary - safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard - McCourty's settling influence is significant, especially with Gregory and Chung sidelined.

``I feel like Devin helped me out a lot,'' Wilson said. ``He's kind of like a big brother to me back there and he keeps things calm because there's so many young guys back there.''

The makeup of the secondary will change next week when Aqib Talib, acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, will be eligible to return after a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

``This week we've got to just focus on who's here and what we have to do to get a win,'' McCourty said, ``and then, I think, next week when all that comes into play, it'll really help us out.''

It also could mean more time at safety for McCourty once Talib gets acclimated - a process McCourty could speed up with his experience at cornerback.

``I have a good knowledge of, especially for our corners, what they're doing,'' he said. ``So I think a little bit of that helps where I can say things and I communicate with them to let them know I'm on the same page as them.''

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Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

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Five observations from Wizards' loss to the Pacers despite Bradley Beal's big night

The Washington Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers 109-101 on Monday night. Here are five observations from the game...

1. Another loss: The Wizards just can't seem to put together a full, 48-minute performance, a collective effort good enough to beat a team that isn't among the worst in basketball. On Monday, they saw a Pacers team that despite missing Victor Oladipo is still very good, and they fell short of what could have been an epic comeback.

The Wizards stormed back from down 25 points, only to collapse in the final minute and get outscored 11-4 to close the game. The final result was another loss, their second straight. They are 11-16 on the year with the Boston Celtics up next on Wednesday.

The defeat spoiled another big night from Bradley Beal. He had 30 points, the fourth straight game he's dropped 27 or more. 

2. Otto went down: The Wizards found themselves in a tough situation on Monday with only nine available players after Otto Porter Jr. left in the first half with a right knee contusion. John Wall and Dwight Howard were already out, meaning the Wizards were down three starters. Markieff Morris then got into early foul trouble, giving head coach Scott Brooks a real dilemma.

Though Porter's injury doesn't seem serious, the Wizards can ill-afford losing anyone right now. It's worth a reminder that, as bad as the Wizards have started this season, they have done so with few injuries to blame.

3. Oubre came through: Not long after Porter went down, Kelly Oubre Jr. stepped in to fill the void. He had one of his best games of the season with 23 points, five rebounds, three steals, and a block.

Oubre shot poorly against the Cavs on Saturday, but overall he has been playing very well lately. This was the fourth straight game he's reached double figures and the third time in that stretch he's scored 19 or more.

In addition to scoring, Oubre did a lot of the things Brooks wants him to do. He drew an offensive foul, brought down two offensive rebounds and forced a few turnovers. Oubre's best attribute is his length and his ability to cause havoc defensively, especially off the ball. He came into this game sixth in the NBA in total deflections and second in deflections per 36 minutes.

4. Dekker debuted: The lack of options for Brooks detailed above and the lopsided score at least brought one positive and that was the debut of Dekker, who checked in with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter. 

Dekker actually played fairly well considering the circumstances and happened to help key a nice little run for the Wizards. Washington closed the third quarter on a 13-0 run once he came in. On one play during that stretch, Dekker got a steal and then finished with a dunk on the other end.

The run with Dekker on the floor extended to 19-0 in the fourth quarter and kept the Wizards within striking distance the rest of the game. Maybe Dekker was the missing piece all along.

5. Turner is good: For the second straight game, the Wizards had no answer for an opposing big man. Last game it was Tristan Thompson, this time it was Myles Turner. 

Turner had a huge first half on the defensive end and found his scoring groove in the second half. He had a monster stat-line of 26 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks.

The strategy for opposing teams at the moment appears to be to attack the Wizards in the middle, knowing they are just trying to make do with Thomas Bryant and a collection of small-ball fives. Teams may keep doing that until the Wizards stop them.

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Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

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Tom Verducci gives more specifics on Bryce Harper's 2016 injury

Entering 2016, Bryce Harper was ready to take over the world. After putting forth one of the most impressive offensive seasons in recent memory in 2015, he was rewarded by being named the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball. The following season, he was prepared to take another step forward.

Instead, he slashed .243/.373/.441 with 24 home runs, and questions abounded about why he was struggling.

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, one of baseball’s most accomplished reporters, wrote a story late in the season about how Harper had suffered a shoulder injury, according to a source. The Nationals vehemently denied these reports at the time, claiming that their doctors were not aware of any medical issues with Harper’s shoulder. Mike Rizzo said he asked Harper directly if he was hurt and was told no.

At this year’s Winter Meetings, Verducci spoke with NBC Sports Washington, and he doubled down on his reporting.

“2016, of course, that’s when he injured his shoulder. It was a slide in Milwaukee, about one-third of the way into the season, was never quite the same.”

Whereas in 2016 Verducci simply referred to “a source,” it appears this information came from Harper directly.

“As he told me,” Verducci says, “He could not lift weights upper-body wise through the rest of that season, he lost weight, didn’t have the same kind of power. He was compromised even throwing on defense, he had to compromise by playing much more shallow.”

“The numbers in ‘16 really are a function of the injury.”

One concern Nats fans have about signing Harper to a major deal is how his numbers in the post-MVP years have failed to match 2015. According to Baseball-Reference, his combined Wins Above Replacement total from 2016-18 is 7.5. His bWAR in 2015 alone was 10.0. Still, Harper never had an OPS+ below 114 in that stretch. Even his “down” seasons would still be considered quality years for most big league hitters.

Harper is also just now entering his prime, however, so presumably many of his best seasons are still to come. For one MLB insider, at least, there’s no real cause for concern about a long term deal as long as Harper can stay healthy.

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