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Raiders' focus shifts to future

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Raiders' focus shifts to future

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) For the Oakland Raiders, the focus has already turned to the future.

With six straight losses, all that's left for the Raiders (3-10) to play for in the final three weeks is pride, draft position and the opportunity to evaluate some of the younger players on the roster.

Coach Dennis Allen has already gotten increased playing time from young receivers like Rod Streater and Juron Criner, cornerback Phillip Adams and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi. Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie want to get a more detailed look at third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor and rookie offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom in the final three weeks.

``All of us, as competitors, we want to win. That's what it's all about,'' Allen said. ``But I also understand, and I've got a big-picture view of what I want this football team to look like. Reggie and I have talked about it. We knew what we were dealing with when we came here. We knew we had some depth issues on the roster, and we couldn't sustain a lot of injuries. We've sustained a few injuries in some spots. We all want to win, and I understand that. And I want to win now, but I'm looking at the long-term future of this team. We've got to prepare for the future.''

Streater is coming off his best game as a pro, catching four passes for 100 yards - even besting his top single-game yardage mark from two years at Temple. Streater signed with Oakland as an undrafted free agent and has been one of the brightest developments this season with 28 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns.

``Experience is definitely valuable,'' Streater said. ``A lot of things you can't just teach. You got to kind of go out there and experience the good and the bad. Getting that experience will be good for me next year.''

Criner, a fifth-round pick, has 15 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown and has gotten increased playing time in recent weeks.

Adams has gotten more time at cornerback the past few weeks and has interceptions the past two games, while Bilukidi is part of the defensive line rotation.

Allen said he would look at possibly starting Bergstrom as the organization figures out which players will be part of the future.

``It's going to take time,'' Allen said. ``It doesn't happen with one decision. It's an accumulation of decisions made over time that gets everything to be exactly how you want it.''

The most interesting case is Pryor, the former Ohio State star who has no official plays in two seasons as a pro. Pryor got on the field once as a rookie and committed a false start before his only play.

He was inactive the first 11 games before dressing the past two weeks without playing. While Carson Palmer will remain a starter barring injury, Allen does want to give Pryor some playing time down the stretch.

``We've got a package of plays that we've had up and available the last couple of weeks to get Terrelle in the game,'' he said. ``I think at some point we'll get him in the game and have a package of plays for him to run.''

Allen is getting backing in this difficult year from an unusual spot: the AFC West rival Denver Broncos. Allen was defensive coordinator in Denver last season and is still highly thought of in that locker room.

After the Broncos' latest win over the Raiders, some of Allen's old players said they believed he was still the right person to get the Raiders turned around.

``Once they get their personnel that they want, that coach Allen wants, things will start working out. It starts from the top,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``He did some good things for us. He did some good things here. I have to give him a lot of credit. He earned that job. He deserves it. He's a good football mind.''

Allen helped Denver win the AFC West last season and knock out Pittsburgh in the wild-card round before getting the Raiders job. His defense in Oakland has not been nearly as good.

The Raiders are last in the league in points allowed per game (30.9) and fifth worst in yards per game (390.2) and are on pace to allow the most points ever in a season in franchise history.

``It's just his first year,'' Denver linebacker Von Miller said. ``I'm sure they'll get it cooking. For us we got it clicking with coach Allen. He's a great coach. I'm sure the wins will start coming soon.''

Notes: Allen will leave the team to attend his father's funeral on Monday. He will decide when he returns whether to reinstate LB Rolando McClain from his two-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Allen said he has not talked with McClain since the suspension was issued Nov. 30. ... Allen said RB Darren McFadden was walking without pain a day after re-injuring his sprained right ankle that sidelined him for four weeks. ... X-rays on CB Michael Huff's injured wrist were negative. He also was undergoing an MRI but Allen did not believe the injury was serious.

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

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Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Redskins 2018 position outlook: Defensive line

Training camp opens next week, and we have a break here, giving us time to put the depth chart under the microscope. Over the coming week, we will look at every position, compare the group to the rest of the NFL, see if the position has been upgraded or downgraded from last year, and take out the crystal ball to see what might unfold.

Defensive line

Additions: Daron Payne (drafted in first round), Tim Settle (drafted in fifth round)
Departures: Terrell McClain (released)

Starters: Payne (NT), Jonathan Allen, Matt Ioannidis
Other roster locks: Stacy McGee, Anthony Lanier, Settle
On the bubble: Ziggy Hood, Phil Taylor

How the defensive line compares

To the rest of the NFL: We are going to have to see about this. Over the last couple of years the D-line has been transformed from an aging group into one where youth is in good supply. Ioannidis is the oldest of the starters at age 24. Allen is 23 and Payne just turned 21 in May. It looks like there is great potential there but we haven’t seen enough of it on the field to make solid comparisons to other lines around the league. Allen missed 10 games of his rookie year with an injury and Ioannidis missed two and was hampered in a few more with a broken hand. Payne, of course, is a rookie. Let’s check back in late October and see how things are going then. 

To the 2017 Redskins:  The primary reason that the line should be significantly better this year is the presence of Payne and Settle on the roster. That means that it is very unlikely that Hood will have to play nose tackle. He has been the starter there for the past two years, forced there by injuries. Jim Tomsula that Hood is not well suited to play the nose. So they have an improvement there. If they get a mostly healthy season out of Allen and if Ioannidis continue to improve this will be the best defensive line they have had since moving to the 3-4 defensive in 2010. 

2018 outlook

Biggest upside: As noted, Payne just turned 21. He seems to have a rare understanding of the game for a rookie. You often see rookies just trying to survive on physical ability early one. Payne has plenty of that, but he also seems to realize that strength and ability alone won’t let him thrive at this level. He pays close attention to his technique during drills, making sure he does things the right way the first time. If he builds on this for the next year or so the Redskins could have a legitimate star. 

Most to prove: Since so many Redskins fans are accustomed to seeing veteran defensive linemen the team signs as free agents play poorly, they automatically put McGee in the “bust” category. But many of his teammates said he was the most consistent player on the line last year. It’s safe to say that he played better than the popular perception. Next year, he will carry a $4.8 million salary cap number and like most players who are not starters but making good salaries, he will need to play well enough to justify that cap number.  

Rookie watch: The Redskins did not expect Settle to be available in the fifth round and he was too good to pass up when he was still on the board. He should get some opportunity as a rookie. He is likely to be the only other nose tackle on the roster besides Payne (sorry, but the numbers make it unlikely that Phil Taylor will make the roster). That could have him active on many game days and that usually means getting some snaps in the rotation. We will see what he can do with his chances. 

Bottom line: The Redskins were last in the league in rushing defense in 2017. It wasn’t all on the line—in particular, injuries to the inside linebackers hurt a lot—but the simple fact is that the organization long neglected the line. The philosophy was to create a patchwork unit from aging free agents. That has changed now with three homegrown players set to start and Settle and 2016 undrafted free agent find Anthony Lanier providing reserve help. It’s going to be a better unit, no question. But improvement over the last several years is a low bar and we’ll find out if this develops into a quality line over the next few months. 

Quote-unquote

Greg Manusky on Payne:

Payne is doing a great job. He’s trying to get acclimated to some of the calls, hasn’t had a lot of mental errors. He’s done a great job. Physical player.

2018 position outlook series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler