Redskins

Wildcats steadily building momentum

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Wildcats steadily building momentum

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) No. 8 Arizona rolled through the opening part of its schedule before facing a bit of adversity this week against Southern Miss.

Now the schedule is about to get tougher: A road game against Clemson on Saturday and No. 6 Florida a week later at the McKale Center.

This bump in competition couldn't have come at a better time for Wildcats coach Sean Miller.

With a team that relies on freshmen at key positions, Miller likes the idea of building up their confidence before throwing them into the ring against heavyweights.

``I think we'll learn a lot about our team in the next two games,'' Miller said. ``I don't think it's the defining moment of our season, but I do think we'll have a team that will be ready for both.''

The Wildcats have been ready for whatever opponents throw at them so far this season.

Living up to the hype of a team that has a talented group of veterans and another stellar recruiting class by Miller, Arizona (6-0) raced through the first five games of its schedule, scoring 85 points per game while winning by an average of 25 points.

The Wildcats faced their first test against Southern Miss on Tuesday night at McKale Center.

Struggling against the Golden Eagles' shifting zone, Arizona sped up on offense and spent most of the night throwing passes that were easily picked off or sailed out of bounds.

The Wildcats finished with 27 turnovers, doubling their season average, but pulled out a 63-55 win behind their defense, which prevented Southern Miss from making any of its eight 3-point attempts while forcing 17 turnovers in the second half.

It was ugly, but it was a win that could be a lesson Arizona's young players can look back on when things get tough later in the season.

``This allows us to have a little more confidence if we're in a game situation like this in the future,'' freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski. ``It just puts that under our belt.''

The game against Southern Miss also was an example of why the Wildcats are so dangerous.

Miller's latest recruiting class included three of the best incoming big men in the country: Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, 6-10 forward Grant Jarrett and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley.

They've played well at times early in the season and should get better as the season progresses.

But the key to Arizona's success lies in its veteran leadership.

When the Wildcats had a hard time shaking Charleston Southern in their season opener, Miller stuck almost exclusively with his veteran players down the stretch.

Same thing against Southern Miss.

With the ball flying all over the court and the game a little too close for comfort, Miller turned to his older guys down the stretch to pull Arizona through.

Guard Nick Johnson, a confident and heady sophomore, led the defensive charge at the top of Arizona's defense and finished with 23 points in 37 minutes.

Senior Kevin Parrom came off the bench in the first half, but started the second and played 30 minutes. He scored 13 of his 14 points in the second half and used his passing ability to give the Wildcats a much-needed release valve at the center of Southern Miss' zone.

Senior Solomon Hill hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer in front of Arizona's bench with just under 2 minutes left, and again filled up the stat sheet.

The talented freshmen have a chance to be something special, but Miller can always count on his veteran players, three of whom - with junior point guard Jordin Mayes - reached the regional final of the NCAA tournament two years ago.

``As you guys have asked about this year's team, the gift isn't just our size or our youth and talent, it's also that a lot of different players have been through a lot,'' Miller said.

And there's plenty more for the Wildcats to go through, starting on Saturday at Clemson.

The Tigers are young but athletic and should be the toughest defensive team Arizona has faced so far. After that, the Wildcats face a marquee matchup in the desert the following Saturday against Florida, which beat them in overtime a year ago in Gainesville.

The two-game stretch will be a tough test, but the Wildcats should be ready after backing up all those easy early-season wins with the gut-check victory over Southern Miss.

``To be 6-0 matters to our team,'' Miller said. ``You may say, `Of course it matters,' but you would be surprised how sometimes when things don't go well for you, it's not about the 6-0, it's about you. I like that collective thinking with our team.''

It's worked so far. Now it's time for the Wildcats to see if they can keep it going against stiffer competition.

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10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

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10 Questions in 10 days: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

With Redskins Training Camp set to begin July 26th, JP Finlay takes a look at 10 of the most pressing questions for the Burgundy and Gold. 

No. 10: Major questions at linebacker on Redskins depth chart

The Redskins top two linebackers rank among the most productive units in the NFL. When healthy, Mason Foster and Zach Brown are highly efficient tacklers. In fact, Brown led the league in tackles for most of 2017 before his season ended with a foot injury. 

The healthy part is the trick. 

Last year, Foster separated his shoulder against the Rams in Week 2 and was shut down for the season by October. Brown played through nagging injuries all year before shutting things down in December. 

When both players were on the field, the Redskins defense excelled. In just four starts, Foster made 30 tackles to go with an interception, a fumble recovery and half a sack. Brown logged double-digit tackles in nine games last season, and probably would have more without the foot trouble. 

Foster and Brown are very good in the Redskins scheme, and both players are expected to be fully healthy for the start of training camp. Their injuries from last season are not the type that suggest durability concerns, and both players posted full 16-game seasons in 2016.

Foster and Brown aren't the question. The depth chart after Foster and Brown are the question. 

Zach Vigil, Martrell Spaight, Josh Harvey-Clemons and rookie Shaun Dion Hamilton are competing for two or possibly three roster spots. 

Spaight is the most recognizable name in the group. He's been a good special teams player for Washington, and is well liked in the locker room. By last December, however, Vigil was playing better football. 

More telling for both Vigil and Spaight was that Harvey-Clemons took the starter reps alongside Foster when Brown was absent during OTAs. The second-year man out of Louisville has more physical gifts than either Vigil or Spaight, and now given a full year to learn to play linebacker, Harvey-Clemons could make inroads.

A safety in college, Harvey-Clemons can run. He was a bit of a surprise last season making the 53-man roster out of camp, so expect him to definitely have a shot this year. 

Hamilton will be the wild card. An ultra-talented player out of Alabama, he dealt with a number of injuries in college. Redskins VP Doug Williams talked gushingly about Hamilton after the draft, and if the former 5-Star recruit can stay healthy, he could certainly push for a spot as well. 

Prior to 2017, the Redskins kept four inside linebackers on their final 53 roster. In 2017, the team kept five: Brown, Foster, Spaight, Will Compton and Harvey-Clemons. Compton left via free agency and is now playing in Nashville. 

Foster and Brown are roster locks, and it seems like Harvey-Clemons gets the third nod. 

Spaight, Vigil and Hamilton better be ready for serious competition in Richmond. 

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Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What does the future hold?

In this week's mailbag podcast, JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir answer several questions about the Caps' prospects and Hershey.

How does the future look on the farm? Plus, they talk about potential weaknesses, their biggest surprises and more!

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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