Rookie Hayward shows knack for Woodson-like plays


Rookie Hayward shows knack for Woodson-like plays

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Casey Hayward wasted no time finding a spot in Green Bay's defensive backfield.

Good thing, because the Packers are going to need him - and his sticky hands - more than ever this next month.

The Packers (4-3) have a big hole in their secondary with Charles Woodson out approximately six weeks with a broken collarbone. While Hayward plays cornerback and Woodson is technically a safety, the rookie has shown a knack for the kind of big-impact plays that are Woodson's trademark. Hayward has four interceptions in the last three games, and is tied for the league lead in picks.

``From the first day, you could see his ball skills,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. ``He's a playmaker. Any time you take a rookie and play him in a couple different positions in a multi-scheme defense, I think that says a little bit about the young man. Now that he's getting opportunities, he's taken advantage of them.

``He's got his hands on the ball again today a couple times, so he's getting better with every opportunity.''

The Packers thought enough of Hayward to take him in the second round of the draft. His seven interceptions last year tied him for third most in the country, and his 15 overall matched the Vanderbilt record set by Leonard Coleman. Hayward also holds the Vanderbilt marks for passes defended in a career (46), and single season (17), and was second-team all-SEC in both of his last two years.

But picking off guys in college, even in the big, bad SEC, is one thing. The NFL is quite another.

``You always come in with a confident attitude and I'm a confident guy,'' Hayward said. ``So I felt like whenever I got my opportunity I was going to take the best of it. The ball was going to come to me. You're going to get caught on some, but I felt like I was going to make some plays, as well.''

Watching Woodson in training camp only made the adjustment easier.

An eight-time Pro Bowler, Woodson has 55 interceptions, 11 of which he's returned for touchdowns. But it's not just the picks that have made him so disruptive. He can - and does - play all over, and quarterbacks can never be sure exactly where he'll pop up. He's also one of the most physical players in the secondary, and his linebacker-like hits have forced countless drops and fumbles.

The Packers moved Woodson to safety in their base defense this year, but he still plays slot cornerback in the sub packages.

``He's a guy people have to account for every time,'' Aaron Rodgers said. ``I know if I was playing our defense, I would want to know where he's at, whether he was at the high safety or whether he was down in the slot or whether he was coming on a pressure. He gets a lot of hits on the football. He's forced a lot of fumbles here over his time.''

Though Rodgers may be the face of the franchise, Woodson is every bit as important to the Packers. Just as Rodgers does the offense, Woodson takes charge of the defense, making sure everyone knows the various packages and the coverages that go with them. He can often be seen signaling to his teammates when he spots something on the field or catches someone out of position. On the sideline, he's always tutoring the younger players.

``Just watching him I was getting more comfortable, just seeing how a Pro Bowler does it,'' Hayward said.

Playing opposite Tramon Williams helped, too. Williams was a Pro Bowler in 2010, when he had six interceptions and the Packers won the Super Bowl. He led the Packers last year with 24 passes defended, a career high, and had four more picks. He has two interceptions so far this year, and leads the Packers again with 13 passes defended.

Given a choice between throwing to Williams' side of the field or Hayward's, offenses are going to go to the rookie every time.

``No doubt,'' Hayward said. ``You don't want to go at Tramon. He's going to pick the ball as well. He's capable of doing it this season already with two early and a lot of passes defended. So when I'm out there, I'm going to be looking for the ball to come to me.''

After seeing his playing time increase in Green Bay's first four games, Hayward made a big impression against Indianapolis when he picked off an Andrew Luck pass meant for Reggie Wayne. He was even better the following week with two picks against the previously unbeaten Texans, the first multi-interception game by a Packers rookie since Mike McKenzie in 1999.

Hayward's first interception snuffed out a Texans scoring drive, as he picked off Matt Schaub in the end zone. (He'd broken up Schaub's two previous passes, too.)

``He has a lot of poise,'' McCarthy said. ``You can see the game wasn't too big for him from the first time we lined up.''

Hayward got his first start last weekend in St. Louis and, sure enough, he came up with the ball again.

It's the first time since Tom Flynn in 1984 that a Green Bay rookie has had four picks in three games. The four interceptions are also the most by a Packers rookie since McKenzie had six in '99 - and there are still nine games to play.

While teams might start going away from Hayward if he keeps this up, he won't mind if they keep picking on the rookie.

``You want the ball to come at you no matter if you're a Pro Bowler or not,'' Hayward said. ``The more opportunities you have to get the ball, that's what I like so they can keep throwing the ball at me all they want. They're going to catch a few balls here, but I feel like I'm going to make some plays as well.''


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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”


And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.


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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Ian Mahinmi

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Ian Mahinmi's season...

Player: Ian Mahinmi

Position: Center

Age: 31

2017-18 salary: $15.9 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.9 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55.6 FG%, 00.0 3P%, 70.3 FT%, 55.6 eFG%, 107 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 1/12 vs. Magic - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, steal, assist, 7-for-8 FG, 3-for-4 FT

Season review: After missing 51 games in the 2016-17 season, the first of his four-year contract with the Wizards, center Ian Mahinmi managed to stay healthy for the entirety of 2017-18. He appeared in 77 games and gave the Wizards a good look at the player they signed to a $64 million deal in free agency.

Mahinmi was a mainstay in the Wizards' rotation as their backup center. While Marcin Gortat started all 82 games at center, Mahinmi at times got the nod late in games as head coach Scott Brooks favored his defense.

Though Mahinmi was available all season, he still fell short of the numbers he put up in his last year in Indiana, in 2015-16. Mahinmi's minutes per game were his fewest since 2010-11, and his points and rebounds were his fewest since 2013-14. 

Mahinmi's numbers were affected by his low minutes, as he could never quite crack the top six or seven spots in Brooks' rotation. His numbers per 36 minutes, however, were on par with how he played in Indiana before the Wizards signed him to a big contract.

2015-16 per 36: 13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg, 1.3 spg

2017-18 per 36: 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 spg

That, of course, only means so much. Mahinmi may have been relatively efficient with his minutes, but the consistency wasn't there to convince Brooks and the coaching staff to increase his role.

It will be interesting to see what the team plans for Mahinmi next season, as this summer could bring changes to their frontcourt. Both of their starting big men - Gortat and Markieff Morris - have one year left on their contracts. If Gortat in particular is dealt, that could open the door for Mahinmi to earn more playing time.

The Wizards could also add to their frontcourt through the draft. If they get a rim-protecting big man in the first round, that could be bad news for Mahinmi's playing time. Like several Wizards players, Mahinmi's role is up in the air entering this summer.

Potential to improve: Finishing around rim, consistency, limiting fouls

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Markieff Morris, PF

Marcin Gortat, C

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Tomas Satoransky, PG

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