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Top tailbacks Ball, Taylor in Rose Bowl spotlight

Top tailbacks Ball, Taylor in Rose Bowl spotlight

LOS ANGELES (AP) Although Montee Ball and Stepfan Taylor have barely met, Taylor is pretty sure they would get along famously.

``We had a quick hello this week, but you can tell we've got a lot in common,'' the Stanford running back said. ``At least on the field.''

In an era of college football dominated by spread schemes and prolific quarterbacks, these two tailbacks personify an old-fashioned, smash-mouth approach to offense. Running behind similar massive offensive lines at Wisconsin and Stanford, both backs persevered through slow starts to their careers to earn prominent spots in the record books heading into their big finales in the 99th Rose Bowl.

``You can't really have a better running back matchup in college football than this one,'' Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

Ball and Taylor expect to get to know each other while they prepare for the upcoming NFL draft, where they're both likely to be high picks. They'll first finish up their college careers against each other when the surprising Badgers (8-5) make their third straight Rose Bowl appearance Tuesday against the favored No. 8 Cardinal (11-2).

When Ball is asked about Taylor's abilities, he realizes he might as well be describing himself.

``We're both not blazing fast, but we both do a good job playing to our strengths,'' Ball said. ``We run behind our pads, run between the tackles and always stay physical. We've got a lot of similarities, so it's good to see him have success. Just hopefully not too much success in the game.''

The Rose Bowl is a culmination of two resilient tenures at a notoriously fickle position. Both backs are playing in their third straight BCS bowls: Ball was outstanding in both of the Badgers' previous trips to the Rose Bowl, while Taylor had big games in Orange and Fiesta bowls over the past two years.

Ball, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back this season, has scored 82 touchdowns - more than anybody in FBS history.

Taylor is merely the leading rusher in Stanford history - and one score shy of becoming the school's career touchdowns leader - as an incredibly durable performer who almost never leaves the field when the Cardinal have the ball.

Yet neither Ball nor Taylor started his college career as the main man, instead winning their starting jobs through persistence and hard work.

Taylor was a backup to Toby Gerhart as a freshman, getting just 56 carries. He was overshadowed for most of his first three seasons on The Farm with Heisman contenders Gerhart and Andrew Luck in the same backfield before getting the spotlight this year - and even then, he was overshadowed on the West Coast by fellow Pac-12 ball-carriers Kenjon Barner at Oregon, Ka'Deem Carey at Arizona and Johnathan Franklin at UCLA.

Yet Taylor broke Darrin Nelson's Stanford career rushing record in the Pac-12 title game, getting 78 more yards to give him 4,212 in his career. With a touchdown against Wisconsin, he'll break his career tie with Gerhart at 44 TDs.

``I don't worry about people paying attention to me as long as we're winning games, because that's all you can control,'' Taylor said.

Ball played behind John Clay as a freshman and in a three-back combo with Clay and James White as a sophomore. Ball was frequently the third option in that troika in 2010, particularly when he didn't even play in a win over Ohio State, a setback that left him contemplating a transfer or moving to linebacker.

``I learned a lot about distractions during my career, and that helps you when you get in a situation like the Rose Bowl where you need focus,'' Ball said.

Ball has rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns in the final season of his decorated career at Wisconsin. With three touchdowns in the Big Ten title game, Ball broke the FBS career record for rushing TDs with 76 while topping 5,000 yards for his career.

He was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season after scoring 39 touchdowns, and he rushed for 164 yards in Wisconsin's loss to Oregon in last season's Rose Bowl. Ball won't catch Wisconsin career rushing leader Ron Dayne, the top ball-carrier in FBS history with 6,397 yards, but he's done just about everything else possible in Madison.

When David Shaw was asked about his single biggest concern in the Rose Bowl, the Stanford coach was blunt: ``He wears No. 28 for the other team.''

That would be Ball, of course. The Cardinal have replicated Ball in practice with Stanford backup running back Barry Sanders - yes, the son of that other Barry Sanders, whose single-season record of 39 touchdowns for Oklahoma State was tied by Ball last season.

``His career reminds me so much of Stepfan Taylor,'' Shaw added. ``"He's got great vision, great balance. He waits for the blocks and to happen, and then he explodes. You never see him get in (bad) body position. He doesn't turn the ball over. He doesn't sacrifice the good play to try to make the big play. He makes the plays he's supposed to make, and then makes more. He's just one of those complete running backs that we have a lot of respect for.''

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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