Nationals

Rams' offense healthier heading into 2nd half

Rams' offense healthier heading into 2nd half

ST. LOUIS (AP) Rodger Saffold was pleased to be part of the St. Louis Rams' traveling party to London - until the game began.

``I was like so happy that Coach (Jeff Fisher) let me come even though I was injured,'' Saffold said Wednesday. ``And then afterward I'm like `Why did he do this?' Standing out there on that field in the rain.''

And watching the Rams get whipped 45-7 by the Patriots.

Earlier in his rehab, Saffold was hobbling around on crutches.

``I think I burned those crutches,'' Saffold joked. ``I burned them to the ground.''

Maybe this week, the offensive tackle can be more than a spectator.

``It's always been my goal to get back on the field as fast as possible,'' Saffold said. ``I'm just hoping this is the week.''

The Rams (3-5) are getting a lot healthier on offense heading into the second half of the season, with wide receiver Danny Amendola also expected back from injury and center Scott Wells returning to practice for the first time since the opener.

That's good news for a unit returning from its bye week anxious to top its seven-point output in a wipeout loss to the Patriots at Wembley - and just in time for a stiff test at San Francisco, which is allowing an NFL-low 12.9 points a game and is No. 2 in total defense at 271 yards per game.

``I don't know if I would say anxious,'' quarterback Sam Bradford said. ``Anytime you get to play a defense like this, it really kind of allows yourself to see where you're at.

``We know we need a great week of preparation if we're going to go out and succeed on Sunday.''

The Rams, who have lost three in a row, realize they've got to minimize mistakes and maximize opportunities.

``You've just got to make the plays,'' Fisher said. ``You've got to make individual efforts, you've got to win individual battles.

``We have to attack their defense with a team concept, but it comes down to individual players have to make plays.''

Amendola remains the team leader with 32 receptions and 395 yards even after missing three games with a collarbone injury sustained while attempting a diving catch Sept. 30 against Seattle. Saffold has missed six games with a third-degree right MCL strain and Wells broke his left foot in the opener.

Amendola stayed in St. Louis during the players' four-day break to continue rehab. He ``absolutely'' expects to be available for punt return duty as well.

``I'm practicing full-go and we'll see how it goes,'' Amendola said. ``I'm feeling great. It's just a matter of being able to withstand a hit and blocking and stuff, but I'm feeling stronger every day.''

Saffold anticipated an increase in workload throughout the practice week and more testing on game day before he'd get the go-ahead. He wore a brace before the injury, which protected him from ACL damage.

``It just reminds you how violent this game is. You get hit, you get hit hard,'' Saffold said. ``You want to give out the hit, you don't want to take it.''

Wells has barely seen the field since signing a four-year, $24 million free agent deal in the offseason, missing time with a right knee injury and then requiring surgery for a broken left foot sustained in the opener. The Rams have a three-week roster exemption for Wells, who is eligible to play immediately under the new injured reserve role that allows teams to activate one player for Week 9.

``It's the longest I've ever had to wait and sit out, so it's exciting to be able to go out there and take a step in the right direction,'' Wells said.

Robert Turner, envisioned as a utilityman on the line when he signed, has played well as the stand-in center.

But Fisher pulled no punches when asked what he could realistically hope to get from Wells after he's been sidelined so long. Wells missed the first two preseason games recovering from the knee injury.

Fisher anticipated Wells would ``step in and be our starter. He'd be the guy we brought in here to take over and control everything up front.''

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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.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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