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Richt hopes Georgia defense plays 'mad' again

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Richt hopes Georgia defense plays 'mad' again

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) After underachieving through much of the season, Georgia's defense rose at the right time with a dominant performance in last week's win over Florida.

The important 17-9 win over the previously undefeated Gators came after safety Shawn Williams said the defense had been playing soft.

It was a dramatic turnaround after the Bulldogs allowed at least 20 points in six of their first seven games.

What defense will show up for No. 7 Georgia on Saturday against Mississippi? It may be difficult for the defense to play with the same intensity against the unranked Rebels when it hasn't been challenged by one of its own players.

Coach Mark Richt insists he doesn't have the answer - but he hopes it's more motivation for his defense.

``That's a good question,'' Richt said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. ``You ought to write a story about that, maybe make everybody mad. That would be nice.

``I'm serious, I don't know. I don't know what they are going to do this week. I hope they play like they did this past week. I hope we continue to get after it with that kind of emotion and heartbeat.''

Linebacker Jarvis Jones had a career-high 13 tackles with three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as the defense forced six turnovers.

Bacarri Rambo and Damian Swann had interceptions as Georgia held Florida without a touchdown.

Georgia (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) can clinch its second straight trip to the SEC championship game by beating Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) and Auburn.

Georgia players insist playing for a SEC championship is ample reason to avoid a letdown this week.

``Just keep up the intensity, play with the same chip we played with last week,'' Swann said. ``We're in control of our own destiny. We just have to win out.''

Asked if the defense can match the intensity it displayed against Florida, Swann said ``Of course.''

``I think that game gave us a lot of momentum, and we enjoyed that,'' he said. ``We just have to keep moving forward, keep playing.''

Jones, a 2011 first-team All-America, is rated as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The junior was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week and SEC defensive player of the week.

Richt said Jones may rank with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as the nation's best defensive players.

``I don't know if there is a better defensive football player in America than Jarvis,'' Richt said. ``I know the linebacker at Notre Dame is a great player as well. They might be equally great, and they are both so important to their team.''

Richt then talked himself into a bigger compliment when he reviewed Jones' season totals of 8 1/2 sacks, five forced fumbles and 14 tackles for losses despite missing two games with injuries.

``I think he's the best player in America,'' Richt said.

Best player? On offense or defense?

``I can't think of a better player than Jarvis in the whole United States of America,'' Richt said. ``He's the best.''

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said there should be no more suggestions that the Jones-led defense is soft.

``I did not see a Georgia team that shied away from any physicality,'' Freeze said. ``They're a very physical football team. Their interior defensive line has huge guys, and they surround them with all of those linebackers that can run. They're not too small themselves. Their secondary is very sound. They're solid tacklers and big, physical kids. When you look at it, you certainly see an SEC defense.''

Jones isn't the defense's only highly regarded player. Rambo also was a 2011 first-team All-America. Linebacker Alec Ogletree, Williams, massive defensive tackle John Jenkins (6-3, 358) and others are also highly regarded by NFL draft experts.

The long list of talented players makes the unit's uneven play this season difficult to explain. Georgia struggled to beat Tennessee 51-44 in its last home game on Sept. 29. It gave up 23 points to Buffalo and 20 points to Florida Atlantic.

The defense proved last week it could answer a challenge.

``When somebody tries our manhood or says anything to belittle, us we always respond,'' said defensive end Garrison Smith.

Now the unit must show it can play at a high level in back-to-back games.

``We have a great defense and a great team,'' Smith said. ``It's possible. It's in us. We've seen it. Game after game, sometimes, you know, we come out not like that. But always it's in us. We're going to do our best to bring it back every week and play like this every game from here out.''

---

AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Oxford, Miss., contributed to this report.

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A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

A revitalized DeMarcus Cousins poses the most unique challenge of Thomas Bryant’s young career

The Golden State Warriors, it's probably safe to say, present a unique challenge defensively. They have two MVPs and five All-NBA selections. If you ask Scott Brooks, they have six future Hall of Famers, including Andre Iguodala off the bench.

With DeMarcus Cousins now in the fold, the Warriors can roll out a five-man lineup of guys who can put the ball on the floor and shoot from the outside. Long range shooting for them, of course, has a different meaning than other teams. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are deadly from 30 feet, and sometimes beyond. 

As a team, the Warriors shoot 39 percent from the perimeter on 33.5 attempts per game. Stopping them is a gargantuan task, but the Wizards will give it a shot on Thursday night with an 8 p.m. tipoff set for national TV on TNT.

The Warriors' ability to spread the floor and move the ball from shooter to shooter with unrivaled range is difficult to keep up with, not only for the wing defenders chasing them around. It will also present a unique challenge for Wizards center Thomas Bryant, who at 21 years old and in his second season will be new to it all.

Bryant has only played the Warriors once in his career. That was earlier this season, with the Wizards on Oct. 24. He logged nine minutes, but those were late in a 22-point blowout loss. The game occurred about a month before he was promoted to the starting lineup.

It may seem counterintuitive that Bryant, a big man, will be one to watch as the Wizards battle a team tailored for the perimeter. But he will have plenty of responsibility on the backline of Washington's defense. 

"He has to be a quarterback," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "He has to talk. Their bigs, they hand the ball off a lot and we'll be switching tomorrow. He has to make sure he's able to guard Steph, Klay, K.D. at times. He's going to be switched out to guys. Making it difficult for them with his length and playing with energy, that's what we need."

Bryant, indeed, could very easily find himself on an island at the three-point line, tasked momentarily to stay in front of Curry, for instance. The Warriors will do their best to find mismatches, and they are good at getting them.

Bryant has quick feet and long arms that suggest he can guard in space, but doesn't do a ton of perimeter duty for the Wizards. He is 85th among centers in contested threes per 36 minutes. Usually, he stays home around the rim.

However, he'll almost certainly have to venture out against Golden State, even if he is trailing Cousins. Last season, when he was healthy, Cousins averaged 6.1 three-point attempts per game. This season, through two games back from Achilles surgery, he has taken 40 percent of his shots beyond 16 feet.

"They put so much pressure on you defensively that all five guys need to be on-point," Brooks said. "A lot of times in transition, Thomas is going to be guarding smaller guys because they're coming at you all over the floor. You have to be able to manage that and guard that."

Bryant will get his chance against the Warriors, but the leash could end up being short. Brooks has the option to go small with Jeff Green at center. He could favor a lineup with Green in the middle alongside Trevor Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. at forward and Beal and Tomas Satoransky at guard. That would maximize their ability to switch.

Bryant, though, will start. Whether he stays on the floor could depend on how he fares defending outside shots, which he hasn't done a whole of this season.

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John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

John Legend, Lil Jon and other factors weighing on Redskins' decision with free agent Preston Smith

Edgy describes Ryan Anderson’s demeanor, playing style and music choices.

The Washington Redskins’ outside linebacker and Preston Smith's primary backup desires “hard (expletive)” rap before games while working up a physical and mental lather. Tracks from Mystikal, Lil Jon and “any Young Jeezy” crank through Anderson’s headphones. R&B crooners need not apply.

During this season, one of Anderson’s position coaches offered a musical example of why the second-year defender must modify his habits for a more harmonious future.

“[The coach] told me at one practice this year to stop trying to do so much (on the field),” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington. “Just be John Legend instead of Mystikal or Lil Jon. When you think about that, it makes sense. Be smooth, calm down, be John Legend.”

If the organization believes an Anderson transformation from supporting cast to starter is possible, call it a rap on Smith’s career with the Redskins.

Smith ranks among Washington’s most prominent free agents. The organization showed little initiative in signing the edge rusher to an extension before or during the 2018 campaign.

“I'd love to have [Preston] back for sure, but obviously free agency is what it is,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said late in the regular season. “He's earned the right to go out and shop himself around, but I'm hopeful that we can get him back."

Slot receiver Jamison Crowder, running back Adrian Peterson and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also hit open waters once their contracts expire at the end of the current business year.

From the Redskins' perspective, whether any return depends on salary cap scenarios and perception of replacement options.

Washington has $15.5 million in salary cap space available for 2019 according to Spotrac.com, and a lengthy list of roster needs. Letting Crowder and Clinton-Dix escape creates more holes. The Redskins have a backup option at running back with Derrius Guice returning from injury.

The outside linebacker scenario falls somewhere in between, though no direct battle exists between Smith, a second-round in selection in 2015, and Anderson.

Smith, a three-year starter, played in 81 percent of all defensive snaps last season. He has not missed a game in four seasons.

His backup took the field on 16 percent of snaps last season. Injuries sidelined Anderson for five of 32 career games.

Smith’s four sacks in 2019 set a career-low, yet doubles Anderson’s overall total.   

Despite the limited sack total, Pro Football Focus rated Smith eighth among all NFL outside linebackers last season.

“I still think his future is very bright in the National Football League,” Gruden said.  “He is young, he is strong, he is long, he is smart. Obviously, from a production standpoint, he only had four sacks this year and that's low for a guy like that. But, I think he will get more and more the more he plays."

Anderson’s primary advantage is financial.

NFL.com considers the 26-year-old Smith the 17th best free agent this off-season, meaning a sizable pay raise in his future after concluding a four-year, $5.8 rookie contract.

Anderson, whose rookie contract extends through 2020, is on the books for a $1.7 million cap hit next season.

The Redskins do not need exemplary production from the burly 2017 second-round selection. Receiving a steady and forceful effort as a run stuffer and pocket-collapser works.

“Ryan Anderson has been in and out with the injuries, but he's done solid (work) with his assignments,” Gruden said.

An unwillingly participant in media sessions during his rookie season, Anderson turned engaging with reporters in Year 2. Chatting while seated in front of his locker at Redskins Park, he labeled his sophomore season “up and down,” but also recognized growth with his mental game.

“This year [the game] finally started to slow down for me. (Unlike) last year, everything wasn't a blur,” Anderson told NBC Sports Washington.

Washington often uses its outside linebackers to create a perimeter edge, forcing opposing ball carriers inside where teammates await. That is a good use of the powerful 253-pound Anderson.

Whether the Redskins use him as the 2019 starter is beyond his control.

“I’m just trying to get myself together so I’m in the best shape, so there’s no question about the position when I’m playing," the University of Alabama product said. “I don’t want to go out there and get the snaps I’ve been asking for and then I’m not producing.”

Anderson also plans on letting the assistant coach’s Legend-ary advice sink in.

“I’m a guy that doesn't even really listen to that kind of music,' Anderson said of Legend's soulful fare, "but at that the end of the day it makes sense.”

As does going with the flow until the Redskins sort out their off-season strategy at outside linebacker. 

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