Woods, Barkley eye records when USC hosts Colorado

Woods, Barkley eye records when USC hosts Colorado

LOS ANGELES (AP) Robert Woods and Matt Barkley are closing in on two remarkable records at Southern California.

Even with the way Colorado's defense has played lately, the No. 11 Trojans say they aren't planning their celebration just yet.

With its national title dreams still somewhat realistic, USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) finally returns to the Coliseum on Saturday for just its second home game in seven weeks. The Trojans are a 40-point favorite against the Buffaloes (1-5, 1-2), who have yielded more than 45 points per game since their season opener.

``We're trying to treat it like they're another top team,'' Woods said.

Even with ample evidence to the contrary - and even with history in reach.

With 96 career touchdown passes heading into his 43rd career start, Barkley needs four TDs to pass Matt Leinart for the USC and conference career marks. A big chunk of those throws have gone to Woods, whose pending achievement is even more spectacular: He needs just five catches to surpass Dwayne Jarrett's 216, making him USC's career leader midway through his junior season.

``Growing up watching all the USC receivers - Jarrett, Steve Smith, Mike Williams, all those great guys - it's special to be a part of that,'' Woods said. ``It's a blessing that I could do it in just 2 1/2 (seasons). I hope I can do it on Saturday at home.''

With 36 catches for 360 yards and five touchdowns this year, Woods' performances haven't been as eye-popping they were in his All-American sophomore season, albeit for a variety of reasons. Opposing defenses have been daring the Trojans to run the ball since their season opener, blatantly sitting back in unbalanced pass defenses to limit Woods and Marqise Lee, who still has 54 catches of his own for 681 yards and seven scores.

``It is different than last year, but I have a different role,'' Woods said. ``Marqise emerged as a top receiver. We've got a great running game. I have to do different things to make us successful ... and I care about winning games most of all.''

Barkley and Woods are hoping coach Lane Kiffin will allow them to unleash the passing game that tormented defenses down the stretch last season. Kiffin has been content to grind out wins with USC's running game and a sturdy defense - and though Barkley's Heisman Trophy candidacy is on life support, his chances of playing in a January bowl for the first time are still healthy.

``I'm certainly having a good time,'' Barkley said. ``From now, our goal is to win out for the rest of the season.''

It all starts Saturday at the sold-out Coliseum, where football-starved USC fans begin a delicious stretch of four games in six weeks, including a showdown with Oregon in two weeks and culminating in Notre Dame's post-Thanksgiving visit. Yet the Trojans aren't looking past the Buffaloes, who are trying to relish the long odds they're facing in their first Coliseum visit since 2000.

``I want to play the best, and they have the best guys, some of the best guys in the nation,'' Colorado safety Parker Orms said. ``Matt Barkley, the receivers, even their running back, their whole team are NFL guys, and I just want to see how I can match up against them. I know our guys aren't afraid.''

Orms was disappointed when the Buffaloes didn't face Stanford's Andrew Luck in their first season in the Pac-12. Barkley's numbers haven't been prolific this season, but he burnished his reputation during USC's visit to Boulder last season, throwing a school-record six touchdown passes in a 42-17 victory that kept USC perfect in its six meetings with the Buffs.

Colorado coach Jon Embree realizes the hazards of taking on USC's passing game after what it did to the Buffaloes last season, and he's not professing any secret knowledge about how to shut down Barkley, Woods and Lee.

``Well, to keep them in check, don't let them play,'' Embree said. ``You're not going to keep them in check.''

USC's defense also hopes to build on its strong season, culminating in an impressive effort at Washington last weekend. The Trojans have given up just 111 points all season, while the Colorado defense gave up 51 last week alone.

With a full week at home after back-to-back road trips and a bye, the Trojans are hopeful they've moved back into their groove.

``Just because we're a 40-point favorite doesn't mean we have a week off,'' USC safety T.J. McDonald said. ``We're creating good habits and making sure we still pay attention.''

Embree realizes the California recruits attending Saturday's game might not be terribly enticed by the Buffaloes if they're getting pounded by USC. But even if a blowout ensues, the Colorado coach is looking for players who understand it won't always be this way.

``They need to understand that we are not instant oatmeal,'' Embree said. ``We are not just adding water and going. So if that's what they're looking for, then this is not the place for them. If they want to be a part of something special and help build something, those are the things we talk about.''

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.


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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Various sources

Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.


Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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