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Steelers OL DeCastro back at work, preps for debut

Steelers OL DeCastro back at work, preps for debut

PITTSBURGH (AP) Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin could barely contain themselves on draft day when David DeCastro fell to Pittsburgh at No. 24.

Eight months later, it appears they'll finally get a chance to see him line up at guard in a regular-season game.

Left guard Willie Colon had surgery on his left knee on Monday and could be out for the season. Tomlin said Tuesday that DeCastro will be worked in at right guard during practice this week and could start Sunday when the Steelers (7-6) play at Dallas (7-6).

After quickly earning his way onto the first team, DeCastro sustained a torn MCL during the Steelers' third preseason game and did not return to practice until mid-November. He was in uniform the past two games but only used on special teams.

``We're ready to take the next step,'' Tomlin said. ``Potentially, this week - depending on how that preparation looks.''

Should DeCastro prove ready, Ramon Foster would move over to left guard, allowing All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey to stay at his given position.

In past years, an injury such as the one DeCastro sustained Aug. 25 in Buffalo might have meant a lost rookie season. But with modified injured reserve rules implemented this season, DeCastro was placed on an IR list that allowed him to come back after eight weeks. He did not, however, immediately regain the starting job he won early in camp. The Steelers instead chose to ease him into NFL life.

``With a guy like him, it's more than health because he doesn't have a lot of playing background,'' Tomlin said. ``So although he's been healthy, practice has been good for him, the technique growth and development has been good for him, just simply playing professional football has been good for him. So although he' been healthy, we still thought he had room for growth from an overall readiness standpoint.''

Tomlin did not guarantee DeCastro would start Sunday but did make reference to Foster's familiarity with left guard and the preference to return Pouncey to his most comfortable position.

Colon's injury wasn't discovered until Nov. 23, two days before the Steelers played in Cleveland. Colon did not practice the Friday before the Browns game but downplayed it as a routine day off. During pregame warmups in Cleveland, the knee swelled up and he did not play. Colon missed the following week's game at Baltimore but returned to practice late last week before being knocked out of a loss to San Diego this past Sunday.

``He will be out for several weeks,'' Tomlin said. ``I think we need to let a day or two go by before we look at the totality of a possible return.''

The injury situation in Pittsburgh's secondary is rough, as well.

Ike Taylor will miss his second consecutive game due to a broken right ankle, and Tomlin revealed Tuesday that Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen have hip flexor ailments. Although both will be limited in practice, Tomlin indicated he was more optimistic about Lewis' potential availability to play Sunday.

Lewis started in Taylor's place against San Diego, with Curtis Brown filling in as the slot. The result was 12 third-down conversions from San Diego - the majority targeted at Allen or Brown.

Brown was benched in the second half in favor of the undrafted Josh Victorian. The first-year pro was on the practice squad just last week - but he could be in line for a significant role in Dallas if either Allen or Lewis can't play. Victorian was beat for a touchdown by Danario Alexander in the fourth quarter Sunday.

Another cornerback who had yet to see many reps on defense but who might be pressed into action is DeMarcus Van Dyke. Van Dyke was cut by Oakland at the end of training camp a year after being drafted in the third round by the Raiders.

``Obviously, we are running short at cornerback,'' Tomlin said. ``Those guys that had the opportunity to step up and log a bunch of snaps over the last week and a half, it looks like that is going to continue.''

Van Dyke started four of the 14 games he played for Oakland as a rookie last season. He was active for Pittsburgh's first six games this season. After being flagged five times for fouls on special teams over a three-game span, though, he was benched. He was a Sunday inactive five times in a six-game span before playing vs. the Chargers.

``We will continue to work with those guys and build a plan around what they are capable of executing and executing at a high level,'' Tomlin said. ``More than anything, it's not about what we call; it's about what those guys are capable of executing.''

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NOTES: QB Byron Leftwich has been cleared after missing the past three games with injured ribs, but Tomlin gave no indication if he will reclaim the No. 2 quarterback job behind QB Ben Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch played well in Pittsburgh's upset win at Baltimore Dec. 2. ... Tomlin said LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle) will return to practice this week after missing the past two games. ... Tomlin acknowledged that S Troy Polamalu ``experienced a little tightness'' in the right calf that caused him to miss nine of the first 11 games on Sunday but that there were ``no setbacks.''

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Jodie Meeks

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

Player: Jodie Meeks

Position: Shooting guard

Age: 30

2017-18 salary: $3.3 million

2017-18 stats: 77 G, 14.5 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 39.9 FG%, 34.3 3P%, 86.3 FT%, 49.1 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 11/29 at Sixers - 21 points, 4 rebounds, assist, steal, 5-for-11 FG, 3-for-6 3PT, 8-for-9 FT

Season review: The Wizards took a flier on Jodie Meeks last summer in what seemed at the time to be a low-risk contract with a potentially high reward, if he could stay healthy and play to his career norms. They were in obvious need of help at backup shooting guard and three-point shooting for their bench.

Meeks fell short of those expectations for a variety of reasons. Though he stayed healthy for the first time in years, he could not make shots at the clip the Wizards were hoping for. His field goal percentage was not far off from what he posted in recent years, but his three-point percentage was nowhere near the 38.8 percent he shot in his previous four seasons.

Meeks bottomed out midseason, shooting 28.9 percent from three in December and 28 percent in January. Those numbers ticked up beginning in February, but Meeks never fully gained the trust of his coaching staff. He rarely got hot enough to alter games and his best stat-lines often came in blowouts. 

There was a domino effect from Meeks' struggles, as starting shooting guard Bradley Beal had no one to spell him. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any NBA player this season.

For Meeks personally, it was a bittersweet year because staying healthy was no small feat. He had a run of bad luck and finally broke out of it this season. On the other hand, he never made the impact he felt he was capable of and that wasn't easy for a guy joining a new team and a new locker room.

Meeks' 2017-18 season was ultimately defined by more than his shooting woes. First, he expressed interest in a trade in February and did not get his wish. Then, he was suspended for allegedy using performance-enhancing drugs after the regular season ended. He was out for the playoffs and will miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season without pay as he waits out a 25-game ban.

Meeks may or may not serve that suspension as a member of the Wizards. He has a player option for next season worth $3.5 million. He has yet to inform the team of his decision, but the expectation is that he will pick it up. Given how poorly his season went and ended, it would likely be the smart move financially for him to opt in and hope for better results next season.

Potential to improve: Shooting percentage, perimeter defense, passing

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

Ian Mahinmi, C

Ty Lawson, PG

Tim Frazier, PG

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Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

Want the Stanley Cup? Five ways the Caps can beat the Golden Knights

The Caps stand just four wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup. To get those four wins, however, they will have to beat the Vegas Golden Knights.

Here are the keys to the series that will give the Caps the win.

Figure out how to beat Marc-Andre Fleury

No player has been as important to his team this postseason as Fleury is to the Golden Knights. He is reason No. 1, 2 and 3 why they have made their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s inaugural season.

Fleury’s personal numbers are staggering. Through 15 games, he has a .947 save percentage and has recorded four shutouts.

Vegas has been a middle of the pack team in terms of offense this postseason scoring 2.87 goals per game. They have lost only three playoff games thus far, but, as dominant as they have been, they certainly are not blowing away the competition. Of their 12 wins, ten of them have come with a margin of victory of two goals or less.

This shows you just how important Fleury is to their success. They are not scoring opponents into submission, rather they are relying on Fleury to keep opponents at bay.

Fleury is the absolute key to the Golden Knights’ success. It’s easier said than done, but if the Caps find a way to beat him consistently, Vegas becomes exponentially more beatable.

Win the neutral zone battle

Much of this series will be determined between the blue lines. The Golden Knights are an incredibly fast team.

Just to get to this point, the Caps had to beat two other speedy teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. They did it primarily by slowing down the offense in the neutral zone with a 1-3-1 trap. With so many bodies defending in the neutral zone, opponents have struggled to break the puck cleanly into the Caps’ defensive zone. The Caps are cutting off passing and skating lanes, creating turnovers and generating odd-man breaks in the other direction by catching opponents’ defensemen playing too aggressively on the rush.

As fast as the Penguins and Lightning were, however, the Golden Knights are even faster. Will the trap be as effective against Vegas?

Limit obstruction penalties

When playing against a team with speed, penalties often become a major issue. When trying to defend against fast players, if you get caught flat-footed or out of position, this tends to lead to obstruction penalties like tripping and hooking. When a player realizes he’s been beat, he does everything he can to prevent that from costing his team, leading to those type of penalties.

Vegas’ power play has not been lights out by any means with a success rate of only 17.6-percent this postseason, but you cannot continually give the opposition chances to score by frequently having a player sent to the penalty box.

Positioning is going to make all the difference in the world in this series to make sure a player is not forced into taking an obstruction penalty just to slow down the Golden Knights.

Get off to good starts

Vegas is 10-1 in the postseason when scoring first. Their secret to success is a mix between goaltending and speed.

Fleury has been phenomenal in net and the Golden Knights are a quick breakout team. It is very hard to get much sustained offensive pressure against them because once they get the puck, they are going down the ice at a million miles an hour.

Having to play from behind against a team like Vegas is not a recipe for success. Just getting the puck and keeping up with them is exhausting. Having to then find a way to then beat Fleury when he has a lead to protect is all the more daunting.

Strong starts will be vital to ensuring the Caps are not frequently having to play from behind.

Depth scoring

Vegas head coach Gerard Gallant likes to roll his four lines. It makes sense since there drop-off between his top line and fourth line is not as dramatic as it is on most NHL teams.

Consider how this team was constructed. The expansion draft did not give Vegas access to superstar players, but they also did not have to take any fringe NHL/healthy scratch players to fill the fourth line either. They filled their roster with the best players available to them which gives them four lines of much more comparative strength than most NHL teams.

While this means the Caps have a stronger top six, it also allows Vegas to roll four lines and take advantage of other teams’ bottom six.

You can never take a shift off against Vegas. There is no weak line to exploit. The Golden Knights come at you with four lines and relentless pressure and forecheck for 60 minutes.

Washington will probably get more production from its top six than Vegas will, or at the very least it will be a push. The question is what kind of production will each team get from the bottom six? If the Caps have the edge in depth production as well, they will be in good shape.

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