Redskins

Sack is back for Merriman in 2nd stint in Buffalo

Sack is back for Merriman in 2nd stint in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) It seems like it's been so long since Shawne Merriman got a sack, he can't get the numbers straight.

``What's it been, `09?'' the Buffalo Bills defensive end said Wednesday.

Actually, Merriman overlooked the one he had against Cincinnati during an injury-shortened season with Buffalo last year.

But who's counting? One sack over two seasons for someone who had 39 1/2 in his first three campaigns isn't exactly much to crow about.

What matters is that it wasn't his last one.

A month into his second stint with the Bills (4-6) after the team released him in August, Merriman got an opportunity to reintroduce his sack dance in the final minutes of a 19-14 win over Miami last week. The eighth-year player finished with two tackles for losses - he also stopped running back Daniel Thomas for a 1-yard loss - while being on the field for a season-high 20 plays.

It was enough for coach Chan Gailey to call it Merriman's best performance in two-plus seasons in Buffalo.

``Hopefully he can build on that,'' Gailey said, looking ahead to the game at the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts (6-4) on Sunday. ``Probably, his confidence has taken a notch up a little bit, so I'm looking forward to see what happens with him as the weeks unfold.''

Merriman's confidence has grown, and the outing against Miami provided him a shot of validation after fearing he had run out of second and third chances of an injury-troubled career.

``It's been a tough road,'' Merriman said. ``Five weeks ago, I wasn't even on a team, and wondering, `When you're going to get that call or why nobody wants to give me a shot?' All those things go through your head. But you have to know that when you get that opportunity you have to take advantage of it.''

The opportunities were dwindling because of injuries that hampered the NFL's 2005 Defensive Rookie of the Year and three-time Pro Bowl selection.

The troubles began in San Diego in 2008, when Merriman was limited to just one game before having reconstructive knee surgery. Then he was nagged by a sore right Achilles tendon, which eventually led to the Chargers waiving him in November 2010.

The Bills claimed Merriman, who didn't make it through his first practice before aggravating the Achilles tendon. He made it through only five games last season before having surgery to repair the tendon.

In the spring he returned to Buffalo feeling rejuvenated, but was the odd man out. He was released in August because the Bills wanted to free up room to develop Kyle Moore.

Merriman spent two months waiting to find a new team before the Bills came calling. They required immediate help to shore up a defensive line that lost starter Mark Anderson (right knee) and backup Spencer Johnson (ankle) over a two-week span.

Merriman had not lost faith in his ability, and yet started to believe others around the NFL began to regard him as being washed up.

``The perception was, `This guy can't even play. He can't rush the passer. He can't be physical. He can't be Shawne Merriman,''' Merriman said. ``That really got under my skin. That upset me more than anything.''

It's unclear what future role Merriman will have with the Bills. Moore is starting in place of Anderson, who is listed as week to week. And veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay is set to return against the Colts after missing two games with a neck injury.

Whatever happens, Merriman has learned to appreciate the chance to play again.

``You know, this is a privilege. It's hard to play in this league, and even harder to stay around,'' Merriman said. ``I feel like I've done that. And now I'm back to where I need to be. And I have to keep on progressing.''

NOTES: FB Corey McIntyre left practice after aggravating a nagging left knee injury. Gailey plans to hold McIntyre out of practice Thursday, but expects him to play Sunday. ... Rookie CB Ron Brooks missed practice after having emergency dental surgery, Gailey said. ... Kelsay (neck) and RB Fred Jackson (concussion) practiced fully and are expected to play. Jackson was cleared to practice for the first time since being hurt in a 37-31 loss at New England on Nov. 11.

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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

 

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John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

John Wall says Wizards will do less talking this year, but could be best team he's played on

The Wizards in recent years have made a habit of trying to speak things into existence and then not having them actually exist. They have talked the talk and then sometimes haven't walked the walk.

A few instances come to mind, including Bradley Beal saying of the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers that "they didn't want to see us" in the playoffs. Beal also said in November that the Washington was the best team in the East, just hours before James scored 57 points in the Wizards' building.

John Wall has made similar proclomations in the past, usually about himself, including how he is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Now, these statements were all relatively normal for professional athletes who pride themselves in always feeling like they are the best player on the floor or the field. It's part of the mindset that makes them who they are.

But when those statements are made and then not backed up, they can be tough to defend, and especially for a Wizards team which last season seemed to overlook the lesser teams and suffered a down year because of it.

Wall insists all that is about to change. In his 1-on-1 interview with Chris Miller on our Wizards Tipoff podcast, Wall said the message this year will be much different, much more muted than it has been in the past.

"We want to go out with a different mindset and a different focus. We're not trying to go in and think we're a team that has already established something and got respect from people. We have to earn that respect and that means going out and competing every night against the good teams or the bad teams," he said.

That doesn't mean Wall isn't confident. His belief in himself hasn't wavered and, in fact, he may believe in his team more now than ever. That's because he is happy with the offseason the front office has produced.

They signed Dwight Howard and Jeff Green in free agency, traded for Austin Rivers and drafted Troy Brown, Jr. in the first round. All should help the Wizards improve between Howard representing an upgrade at starting center and the others providing much-needed depth.

When Wall was asked by Chris if this is the most complete team he has played with in Washington, Wall left no doubts.

"Yeah, for sure. I definitely think so," he said. "I think it gives us the opportunity where we don't have to play as many minutes. That's the key. At the end of the year, you kind of fall short because you're fatigued. Nobody uses that as an excuse. You play and try to get into the best shape possible. But if you're playing 24 minutes, the whole half, and then 24 minutes and the whole half, you kind of get tired at some point. I think those guys can take a little of the burden and pressure off of us at times."

Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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