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As signing day nears, O'Brien, PSU proudly push on

As signing day nears, O'Brien, PSU proudly push on

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) The peacoat he donned gave Bill O'Brien an authoritative look before he even uttered a word.

Soon enough, he would have the undivided attention of his new players in his first meeting as Penn State coach in January 2012.

Open, straightforward and to the point.

More than a year later, the Penn State football program is remarkably back on steady ground after one of the most challenging seasons ever for a college football team. Year 2 of the O'Brien era in Happy Valley gets its first major milestone when the Nittany Lions' first recruiting class since the NCAA hit the program with sanctions is finalized Wednesday.

The tone was set that very first day.

``Honesty. A lot of guys immediately expected that,'' Michael Mauti, the standout linebacker, said in recounting the first team meeting with O'Brien. ``That definitely resonated through everything he did. Whether meeting with guys about playing time or their positions'' or just to check in on academics or off-the-field life.

``You knew exactly where you stood ... You as a player and person,'' Mauti said. ``That goes a long way.''

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Sounds simple enough. What O'Brien espoused - honesty, hard work, and trust, among other core beliefs - could have come right out of the model playbook for a rookie coach. But those words have especially resonated with a team that, until his hiring, had been thrust into the middle of unimaginable turmoil not of its doing.

The arrest of retired assistant Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges in November 2011 led to the ouster of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno just days later. Veteran defensive coordinator Tom Bradley took over as the interim coach, yet rumors constantly swirled around the Nittany Lions about the future and direction of the team.

Forty-six years of stability under Paterno suddenly came to a startling halt.

But O'Brien wanted the job, that task of getting Penn State ``back.''

Then offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, O'Brien was meticulously prepared for his interview even while helping to guide his team to the Super Bowl.

``The qualities I saw were exceptional leadership skills, high integrity, a long pattern of success in his life - both personal and business - very confident but laid-back at the same time,'' said Penn State trustee and prominent donor Ira Lubert, who was on the search committee.

``Finally a great passion to succeed and a work ethic required to achieve the mission.''

In other words, he had a playbook of sorts before Penn State had even kicked off its new era on the field.

``The main, No. 1 rule for me is to make sure you have a direction, you have a message, a plan,'' O'Brien said. ``You can't be a good leader and be all over the map. You've got to be consistent in what your beliefs are, and your kids need to understand that, too.''

They did, of course, eventually. But it wasn't easy.

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Pre-dawn workouts. Rock music blaring from loudspeakers that echoed heavy bass beats off nearby campus buildings in the darkness. A settled quarterback situation after two seasons of uncertainty.

By the spring, O'Brien had already shaken some things up. At the same time, he also promised the program would continue to its honor its long, storied history of success both on and off the field.

The NCAA sanctions promised to make the job even more difficult. Few, if any observers had expected the serious penalties against the Nittany Lions including a four-year postseason ban, steep scholarship cuts and a $60 million fine. The coaching staff scrambled to keep most of the team together, with big assists from team leaders like Mauti, fullback Michael Zordich and defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

``The emphasis of that first team meeting,'' O'Brien said, ``always remains the same.''

In a sense, football ended up being a respite by the time preseason practice opened in August.

What Penn State did on the field has since become well-known to most college football fans. Few, if any prognosticators picked Penn State to finish 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten) and second in the Leaders Division behind only undefeated Ohio State.

``It was pretty impressive. To be down there, in the middle of that, wasn't a good situation. Even the students were feeling bad,'' said Terry Pegula, owner of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres and another big donor to the university. ``So Bill turned into the shining light in the whole thing. He had a lot of pressure on him and he did a heck of a job.''

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California beckoned Matt McGloin.

Soon, he hopes the NFL does, too.

The former walk-on quarterback from blue-collar Scranton headed west to work out and prepare for the draft at a facility that he said also hosted prospects like Oregon running back Kenjon Barmer and Alabama offensive lineman Chance Warmack.

But his memories of Penn State will last forever. And what he did under O'Brien, and in his offense, was a key ingredient to the coach's strategy. Indeed, if one player personified O'Brien's impact on Penn State, it would be McGloin, who ended his career holding a number of school passing records following two years of splitting time with Rob Bolden.

``He always has a positive attitude and brings it every day,'' McGloin said. ``You have to match his intensity. I just fed off him.''

With the change in coach came a change in interactions.

Paterno died last January at age 85. Physical ailments limited what he could do on the field during practice in the latter years of his career. He could charm a room and win over recruits and their parents in Happy Valley, but Paterno rarely went on the road to visit prospects in his final years.

Perhaps just as important as O'Brien's straightforward message was how he has delivered it. He is a different voice walking the figurative coaching line of being an authoritative figure while lending a sympathetic ear to players.

A year - and eight wins - later, McGloin said he will be friends with O'Brien for the rest of his life.

``He understands that Penn State lives around football,'' he said. ``It helps the community, the businesses.''

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The next generation of Nittany Lions should sign their letters-of-intent by Wednesday and join camp in August. It would be the first recruiting class since the sanctions were announced in July, and the first class to fall under the sanctions.

Some notable prospects have decided to look elsewhere, according to recruiting analysts. But O'Brien seems to be doing well overall. Tight end Adam Breneman is already a Nittany Lion after finishing high school early and enrolling last month.

Virginia high school quarterback Christian Hackenberg could be Penn State's signal-caller of the future. Any lingering doubts about whether he'll sign on Wednesday might be erased with a quick look at his Twitter page, which labels him a ``Nittany Lion for life.''

In the weight room, O'Brien said he planned some tweaks to how the team lifts. He knows the offense won't be the same with a new quarterback now that McGloin has graduated. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof headed home to Georgia to take the same job at Georgia Tech, but the Nittany Lions will play the same aggressive, multiple-look 4-3 scheme.

Otherwise, there's a welcome status quo for fans in Happy Valley.

``The theme,'' O'Brien said. ``will never change at Penn State as long as I'm the coach here.''

Hard not to believe him.

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Follow Genaro Armas athttp://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

Why the trade for Radko Gudas could signal the end of Brooks Orpik’s tenure with the Caps

The Carolina Hurricanes ended the Capitals’ season in the first round of the playoffs and quite possibly Brooks Orpik’s career with it. The 38-year-old defenseman said at the team’s breakdown day that the decision for what comes next, whether retirement or playing another season in the NHL, would have to wait.

“I'm in no rush in terms of deciding on my future in terms of hockey,” Orpik said. “That'll be a more health-related decision down the road."

Whether Orpik wants to come back for one more year in the NHL will be up to him, but the decision on whether to re-sign with the Caps may have just been decided for him.

On Friday, the Caps traded defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas. Most people hear the name Gudas and think of him as a dirty player who can’t play the position, but he is actually a decent defenseman. The media in Philadelphia selected Gudas as the most outstanding defenseman for the Flyers in 2018-19. Plus, his penalty minutes have decreased in each of the past four seasons from 116 all the way down to 63 last season. For reference, Tom Wilson had 128 and Michal Kempny had 60. It’s still high, but it signals a player making a conscious effort to stay out of the penalty box.

Gudas has been suspended four times in his career and he certainly will be watched very closely by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. One big hit could mean a lengthy suspension. That is a definite concern, but in terms of just his play, there is value there as a third-pair defenseman.

With Gudas in, that will almost certainly push Orpik out.

The move gives Washington six defenseman under contract for next season. Teams will usually keep seven for the regular season, enough for three pairs and one extra. Christian Djoos is a restricted free agent and will presumably be back as well, giving Washington seven blue liners.

Djoos had a down year last season, but he did play a third-pair role on the team’s Cup run and he is only 24. It does not make sense to give up on Djoos after one bad year just for one more year with Orpik who will be 39 at the start of next season.

Given Washington’s salary cap situation, the Caps do not have room for an eighth defenseman. If Orpik were to return, it would mean pushing someone else out. The only of those seven defensemen that would make sense to even consider moving for Orpik would be Gudas.

Gudas would not be the first player in the world to be traded and then flipped or bought out soon after. Ironically, the same thing happened to Orpik last season when he was traded to and then quickly bought out by the Colorado Avalanche.

A buyout here, however, would make no sense. According to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator, a buyout would only give Washington $1,166,667 of cap relief and most of that would go to a new Orpik deal making it pointless. Yes, you still have the $3.405 million of cap space the team would have opened up in the trade, but if the plan all along was to re-sign Orpik and ship out Niskanen, then why not just trade Niskanen for draft picks? Then you get his full cap off the books instead of having to go through the trouble of buying out Gudas and having him count against the cap for the next two seasons. That would make no sense.

As for flipping him and trading him to another team, what would the team get for him that would make it worthwhile? You cannot bring on salary or it defeats the purpose so the Caps’ options for a return would likely be limited to players of the same caliber and cap hit. What would be the point of that?

Prior to this deal, Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler were the most likely candidates to play on the third pair next season. Both are left shots. Gudas is a right-shot defenseman which now gives Washington three with John Carlson and Nick Jensen. Gudas also plays with a physical edge. Sometimes he goes too far with it, but so long as he can control himself, he would add the physical presence to the blue line that the team stands to lose with Orpik gone.

There is no reason to trade for Gudas unless the team intended for Gudas to play a role next season. General manager Brian MacLellan chose to trade for a player who is a right-shot, physical, third-pair defenseman which is pretty much exactly the hole they needed to fill on their blue line and essentially the spot Orpik will be vacating. That did not just happen by accident.

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

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Nationals calling up Adrian Sanchez, corresponding roster move pending

WASHINGTON -- Manager Davey Martinez wasn’t sure postgame Saturday what’s wrong with reliever Kyle Barraclough.

The right-hander’s velocity is down, his slider flat and too true, his results poor. Barraclough left the mound Saturday at dusk with a 6.39 ERA. He’s allowed seven home runs in 25 ⅓ innings this season. Little he has tried has worked. And his time on the team may be short.

Utility infielder Adrian Sanchez will join the team Sunday, according to a source. Sanchez’s likely departure from Double-A Harrisburg was reported Saturday night by Mick Reinhard, who covers the Senators, and noted Sanchez’s early removal from the game.

The question is who will be leaving to make room for him

Barraclough seems the logical choice. He has options remaining, so the Nationals could send him to Triple-A Fresno to try and work things out. They could also place him on the 10-day injured list, then send him on an extended rehabilitation in the minor leagues, as they did with Trevor Rosenthal. At a minimum, Washington will go from an eight-man bullpen to a five-man bench, finally delivering Martinez more versatility at the plate and in the field.

Barraclough and left-hander Tony Sipp were rarely used in the last three weeks. A week passed between appearances for Barraclough from the end of May to the start of June. Sipp pitched Sunday for just the fifth time since May 24.

If the Nationals do remove Barraclough from the roster -- in whatever fashion -- it will be another layer of indictment for their offseason bullpen plan. They acquired Barraclough via trade with Miami for international slot money. He was supposed to pitch the seventh inning on a regular basis, Rosenthal the eighth and Sean Doolittle the ninth. That lineup has been disastrous outside of Doolittle, compromising the entire season.

Rosenthal’s travails are well-documented. He pitched again Saturday, walked the first batter on four pitches, walked the second batter, then allowing a single to load the bases with no outs. He eventually allowed just a run. His ERA is 19.50 following the outing. It’s the first time this season Rosenthal’s ERA is under 20.00.

While trying to fix Rosenthal, and trying to hang on with Barraclough, the Nationals have turned to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of Doolittle. Few would have predicted that combination before the season began. Despite the relative concern, no one would have predicted the Nationals’ bullpen to be among the worst in the league for much of the season, but has turned out to be just that.

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