Nationals

Second-ary to none, DBs doing their part for Bears

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Second-ary to none, DBs doing their part for Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears had some question marks in their secondary when the season started. It turns out they had some answers, too.

With the defensive line applying the pressure up front and the guys in the backfield letting little get past them, the Bears lead the NFC North at 6-1.

They keep coming up with big plays. They keep getting recognized for it, too, with Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman being selected NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October.

All he did was return two interceptions for touchdowns, limit Detroit's Calvin Johnson to just three catches for 34 yards and help hold opposing quarterbacks to a league-low 61.9 passer rating while the Bears went 4-0. A month earlier, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings got the recognition.

``It's exciting,'' linebacker Lance Briggs said Thursday. ``It's exciting for all of us when our defensive backfield are playing well. Our men up front are playing well. A lot of teams have to beware no matter what set of defensive linemen we have in. If the ball gets set a little high, if you slip on a route, you know that our guys are going to be in a position to make a play.''

The Bears have been making plenty this season.

They're tied with the New York Giants for the NFL lead with 16 interceptions even though they've played one less game and have returned a club-record six for touchdowns.

While the defense keeps racking up points, it's not giving up many. The Bears are allowing 14.3 per game - second lowest in the league - and are second in takeaways with 23.

But they're not just making plays. They're doing it at big moments.

``Success is at an all-time high because we're comfortable back there,'' Jennings said. ``We know each other's style of play. You can't say too much about Peanut (Tillman); you know what he's going to give you every Sunday. And with the young group of safeties that we have, I'm very comfortable with them just from the fact that I know their abilities.''

Jennings, the league leader with six interceptions, joined the points parade with a key pick last week in a 23-22 win over Carolina. That happened right after Jay Cutler connected with Kellen Davis on a touchdown in the fourth quarter, cutting a 12-point deficit to five.

On the Panthers' next play from scrimmage, Steve Smith slipped running an out pattern and the ball went right to Jennings. He returned his second interception of the game 25 yards for a touchdown, giving Chicago a short-lived lead in a game they ultimately won on a field goal as time expired.

It was just another quick strike by the defense at a key moment.

Against St. Louis on Sept. 23, Major Wright delivered the knockout blow in the fourth when he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown on a pass that Jennings deflected.

The next two games against Dallas and Jacksonville, Tillman and Briggs returned interceptions for touchdowns, making them the first duo in league history to do that.

``I think sometimes it's just your year,'' cornerback D.J. Moore said. ``It doesn't happen like this every year. ... You've just got to do what Coach tells you to do, be in the right position. Plays happen for you. It's a skill league, but there's a lot of luck into it. Sometimes, you're just in the right spot at the right time.''

Takeaways have been a big point of emphasis for Chicago ever since coach Lovie Smith took over in 2004, but veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher can't remember a year like this.

``We just make big plays at good times,'' he said.

Urlacher credits the defensive line for creating the pressure, but the secondary sure is doing its part despite some question marks.

Tillman was coming off his first Pro Bowl season but is also in his 10th year in the league. So there were concerns about his age.

Jennings had trouble hanging onto the ball in the past, but now they just might be the league's most effective cornerback duo.

``I don't know,'' Tillman said. ``We're only halfway through the season, and I definitely think there's room for improvement, not only with myself but with Tim. The sky's the limit. I definitely think we can. But you don't get any awards for halfway through the season, for being the best cornerback tandem.

``I definitely think there's potential for that. We just got to keep doing what we've been doing, making plays, covering receivers, creating turnovers, getting our offenses some good field position and scoring.''

Notes: The Bears held OT Jonathan Scott out of practice because of a groin injury, while DE Julius Pepper and Urlacher were coach's decisions. Briggs (toe) was a limited participant, and TE Matt Spaeth (ankle) was a full participant after being limited the previous day.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite as clear anymore. 

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jerome Robinson

School: Boston College
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 21
Height: 6-5
Weight: 188
Wingspan: 6-7
Max vertical: N/A

2017/18 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.5 FG%, 40.9 3PT% (2.3 3PT/5.7 3PA), 83.0 FT%
Player comparison: Danny Green
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 29th, NBADraft.net 16th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 17th

5 things to know:

*A three-year player at BC, Robinson developed into a big-time scorer before making the leap to the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points as a sophomore and then 20.7 points as a junior while improving his shooting percentages across the board. He went from 42.3 percent from the field as a sophomore to 48.5 in 2017-18.

*Robinson turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter. After shooting just 33.3 percent as a sophomore, he got that up to 40.9 percent as a junior and on 5.7 attempts per game. That trajectory bodes well for Robinson's chances at the next level.

*He has a quick release on his jumper, giving him the ability to be effective on catch-and-shoot plays off screens. Robinson could develop into a reliable scorer who doesn't need the ball in his hands as a primary focus of the offense. He also showed the ability to throw down some powerful dunks and finish with creativity at the rim. He didn't record a vertical leap at the NBA Combine, but playing above and around the rim didn't appear to be a problem in college.

*Though it didn't show in his last season at Boston College, Robinson was adept at forcing turnovers in his first two years. He averaged 1.6 steals per game across his freshman and sophomore seasons and 16 times in his career had three steals or more in a game.

*Questions for Robinson would include his versatility and speed. Some draft evaluators wonder if he will be able to get separation off the dribble at the NBA level. Also, he put up decent rebounding and assists numbers in college but didn't exactly stand out in either category.

Fit with Wizards: Robinson would give the Wizards depth at the shooting guard position and they need that. He could help Bradley Beal pare down his minutes and offer a scoring punch off the Wizards' bench. The Wizards could use a reliable shooter to help space the floor for Kelly Oubre, Jr. and others in the second unit.

The problems with Robinson's fit would be his lack of positional versatility and what appears to be a relatively low ceiling. He's not the freak athlete that some of his counterparts are at shooting guard. If the Wizards are choosing between Robinson and guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker IV, they could view the latter two as more enticing because of their potential. Robinson would represent a safer pick while others could pay off big-time and have a greater impact on the franchise in the long-term.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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