Nationals

Rod Marinelli playing big role in Bears' success

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Rod Marinelli playing big role in Bears' success

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Ask Lovie Smith about Rod Marinelli and the Chicago Bears coach comes about as close as he ever gets to waxing poetic.

That's hardly a surprise.

Smith and Marinelli are longtime friends and Chicago's defense is performing as well as any heading into Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions.

It helps having Pro Bowl players such as Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs, but don't underestimate the impact of their defensive coordinator.

``I couldn't do Rod justice by saying just one thing that he does,'' Smith said. ``He does so much. Again, I know I talk about this always, I've known him so long and I've seen him in every situation. He's just a great man, great coach, great leader. We could spend the rest of the day talking about him. He's such a valuable part of what we're doing here.''

What they're doing at the moment is impressive, and the defense is a big reason why Chicago leads the NFC North at 4-1.

The Bears are holding opponents to 291.2 yards per game and rank third overall on defense. They're tops against the run, lead the league in interceptions (13), are tied for fourth in sacks (18) and the defense has done its share of scoring, too.

That group has five touchdowns this season - all on interceptions in the past three games - and has given up just five TDs to opposing offenses.

Unsung players such as cornerback Tim Jennings (four interceptions, 14 pass breakups) and defensive tackle Henry Melton (4 1/2 sacks) have come up big, and a line that was a big question mark has created more than enough chaos.

And a big reason for all that is Marinelli. Now in his third season as coordinator and fourth on the Bears' staff, the Bears jumped at the chance to hire him as the line coach even after an awful three-year run as Detroit's head coach.

He was fired after the Lions went 0-16 in 2008, but he was also a logical fit for Chicago. After all, he was friends with Smith and knew the Cover-2 defense.

``We just learned it from the floor up together,'' Marinelli said. ``Trying to understand it and see it, the details that go into the system. When all the details and fundamentals that go in and how to drill it. I think it's the real belief, we have a great belief in what we do and how we do things. We kind of grew up in it with coach (Tony) Dungy and his belief obviously is very strong in it. We've always been tied to the system and how to do things.''

Players praise Marinelli's attention to detail and ability to get his message across.

``Before Coach Marinelli, I just did my job,'' defensive end Israel Idonije said. ``I lined up. Now, I know the passing strengths. I know just the entire offense and what their plan is and us as a defense, how to get a better matchup.''

He said that's one way Marinelli is different from other coaches.

``The biggest thing about him is what he expects from us,'' defensive end Corey Wootton said. ``He wants perfect. He stays on all of us. He wants the best out of everybody. He'll get on us. He'll yell at us, but he wants to get the most out of us.''

Players appreciate the way he breaks things down, and for Wootton, it's how he emphasizes the pass rush.

``He wrote down a stat when we first got to meetings this year about how many runs compared to passes,'' Wootton said. ``The passes outweighed the runs. The number was substantial. The NFL's a passing league so pass-rush is the emphasis.''

Note: Smith had plenty of praise for Chris Williams a day after the Bears terminated the offensive lineman's contract but also acknowledged it was time to part ways with the former first-round pick. ``I think sometimes it just doesn't work; simple as that,'' Smith said. ``I don't know all the reasons why, or just finding a position, it just doesn't work. There's no other good explanation I can give you except when you see that it's not gonna work, it's time to move on. And that's what we did.''

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

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Nationals extend protective foul ball netting

The Washington Nationals will become the latest MLB team to extend their protective netting down the first and third base lines, team owner Mark Lerner announced on Thursday. A new netting will be installed at Nationals Park during the MLB All-Star break. 

The new netting will extend from the end of the dugout, where they currently end, and go to the left and right field corners. It will be designed with certain sections that can be raised to allow for fan interaction before the games. 

In his announcement, Lerner stated "I could not help but become emotional last month watching the Astros-Cubs game when a four-year-old little girl was hit by a line drive. I can’t imagine what her parents must have felt in that moment. And to see the raw emotion and concern from Albert Almora Jr. was heartbreaking. Further extending the netting at Nationals Park will provide additional protection for our fans."

This announcement comes fresh off the heels of a national conversation about the importance of netting in ballparks and more that needs to be done to protect the fans. As Lerner referenced, a young fan was hit by a foul ball during an Astros-Cubs matchup in May. The girl was rushed to the hospital and left those in attendance paralyzed in shock, especially Cub Albert Almora Jr. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said he did not expect the league to step in this season for a league-wide change. However, he did mention that it would continue to be discussed and stressed the importance of fan safety. 

As a result, some teams are taking matters into their own hands. The Chicago White Sox became the first team to announce an extension of their current protective netting to the foul poles. 

Preceding the White Sox announcement, both Chicago and the Nationals experienced a traumatic foul ball situation. Chicago's Eloy Jimenez ripped a foul ball down the line and hit an unsuspecting fan.  

The first game with the new netting with be on Monday, July 22 against the Colorado Rockies. 

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

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Looking back at the Capitals’ 2016 NHL Draft: How much does a successful draft depend on the first round?

The NHL Draft takes place on June 21 and 22. The Capitals hold the 25th overall pick and will be looking for future stars among all the hopeful prospects.

But just how successful has Washington been in finding those stars? How much value have the Caps found through the draft?

NBC Sports Washington will be looking at how Washington has drafted over the last 10 years. Today’s draft: 2016

26th overall pick (first round): Traded

The St. Louis Blues elected to trade up in the draft sending Washington a first and giving back their third-round pick which the Blues acquired as part of the package for T.J. Oshie. St. Louis used the pick for forward Tage Thompson who ended up playing 41 games for the Blues in the 2017-18 season. St. Louis ultimately traded him away to the Buffalo Sabres as part of the package that got them the now Conn Smythe-winning Ryan O’Reilly.

28th overall pick (first round): Lucas Johansen D

This Caps moved only two spots back in the trade with St. Louis and selected Johansen, a talented but undersized defenseman. Johansen has spent the last two seasons in Hershey. He has added some size, but that no longer is the biggest concern with his play. Despite being a talented puck-mover, Johansen seems uncomfortable with the puck on his stick, almost jumpy. Getting a quick first pass off is an important skill to start breakouts, but it does not appear like he makes quick, smart decisions up the ice, he is just trying to get the puck off his stick quickly whenever it gets close which leads to some bad decisions. Some of this could be due to the upper-body injury that forced him to miss significant time this past season. Either way, he desperately needs to learn to be more comfortable with the puck.

If you take away the puck-moving skills, then you just have an undersized defenseman. He needs to get the puck skills back if he hopes to make it to the NHL.

57th overall pick (second round): Traded

Washington traded this pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February 2016 as part of the package to get Brooks Laich’s contract off the books. The Leafs used the pick on forward Carl Grundstrom who Toronto sent to the Los Angeles Kings as part of the package to land defenseman Jake Muzzin.

Grundstrom ended up playing in 15 games with the Kings with five goals and an assist so he is definitely a player to watch heading into next season.

87th overall pick (third round): Garret Pilon F

This was the pick attached to the first-round pick St. Louis swapped with the Caps to move up. Washington used it to select Pilon, son of former NHLer Rich Pilon.

Pilon had a strong WHL career with Kamloops and Everett and was impressive in his first season in Hershey with 10 goals and 23 assists in 71 games. He has potential as a third-line NHLer, maybe second line but that would be a real reach. He has a great hockey IQ. You can see the plays he is trying to make on the ice, he just can’t always finish the job whether it is getting a cross-ice pass over to an open teammate after drawing the defense to himself or getting enough power behind a shot from a high-danger area. Another year in the AHL to hone his skills and he should have a real shot of making the jump to the NHL.

117th overall pick (fourth round): Damien Riat F

Riat has yet to make the jump from Europe to North America, but Swiss Hockey News reports that he will participate in development camp and training camp for the Caps this year.

145th overall pick (fifth round): Beck Malenstyn F

When the Caps packaged Laich with Connor Carrick and a second-round pick, they did not just receive cap relief. They also got Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick. Washington turned that pick into Malenstyn.

Malenstyn has a solid mix of skill and physical play that led Hershey Bears head coach Spencer Carbery to declare, “he’s our Tom Wilson.”

Now let’s temper expectations here. While Malenstyn may play a similar role for the Bears as Wilson does for the Caps, do not take that to mean Malenstyn is a top-six NHL forward. He’s not. He scored seven goals and nine assists in his first professional season, but the way he was able to have an impact on the ice is certainly impressive. There is some potential here for him to be an NHL fourth-liner.

147th overall pick (fifth round): Axel Jonsson-Fjallby F

Jonsson-Fjallby has NHL speed and is a similar type of player as Carl Hagelin. He is not going to light up the scoresheet, but his speed always makes him a threat and he can be a strong, bottom-six player and penalty killer at the NHL level.

I thought there was a legitimate chance he could compete for the Caps this year if Hagelin left. Hagelin, however, is back for another four years. That’s not to say it is time to move on from him, just that there was room for Jonsson-Fjallby to be a Hagelin replacement and now he can go back to Hershey and work on his game and adjusting to the North American style of play. That’s good news for Washington since Jonsson-Fjallby chose to go back to Sweden early last season and has only 16 games of North American experience.

177th overall pick (sixth round): Chase Priskie D

Priskie just wrapped up a fantastic college career at Quinnipiac where he won a national title, was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and scored 17 goals and 22 assists in his senior season…as a defenseman.

Unfortunately for Washington, since Priskie just wrapped up his fourth season in college he is eligible to become a free agent in August if he does not sign with the Caps before then. Priskie informed management in April that he would not sign with the team and that he intended to become a free agent. Priskie is a right-shot, puck-moving, offensive defenseman who would be a high-end third pair defenseman, but could also develop into a second-pair guy. His decision not to sign with Washington is a definite blow to the Caps and the pipeline.

207th overall pick (seventh round): Dmitriy Zaitsev D

After two seasons in the WHL, the Capitals chose not to sign Zaitsev to an entry-level contract prior to the 2018-19 season thus forfeiting his rights. He elected to return to his native Russia and split time over the season in the KHL, MHL, and VHL.

Takeaways

First the good news. The Caps found a lot of value in this draft. Past the second or third round, you are basically drafting lottery tickets and hoping your number gets called. I am not quite sure what to make of Riat, but besides him, Pilon, Jonsson-Fjallby, and Priskie all have NHL potential. Malenstyn could as well but may be a reach. Sure, these would all be depth guys, but that’s a lot of NHL potential in one draft.

Now on to the bad news. First, the defenseman with the highest upside is probably not their first-round pick, but Priskie and the Caps know they are going to lose him as a free agent. That is his right as written into the CBA so you cannot fault him for taking advantage. Having said that, it really stinks for the Caps who snagged him in the sixth round of the draft just to see him walk after showing off his potential.

Second, the Caps may have found a lot of potential NHLers in this draft, but if they miss on Johansen, was this draft a bust for them? That is not to say Johansen is a bust or that he will never live up to expectations as a top-four defenseman. But if he does not learn to be more comfortable with the puck and learn the difference between quick thinking and panicked reaction, he is not going to make it to the NHL. At this point, it looks like he will need another year in Hershey and if he does not improve, then it is time to wonder whether he has a future at all.

How do you evaluate this draft if you find value in the later rounds—which is extremely hard to do—and miss on your first-round pick? It’s a tough question to answer.

 

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