December 9, 2016

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Right Wing

Whereas there was very little turnover on the left wing, not the same can be said for the right wingers. Last season, the team seriously upgraded its defense; now it’s the right wings that get the facelift. Out are two of the longer-tenured players on the team; in are an Olympic hero and Mr. Game 7. And this season sets up a key one in the development of one of the team’s biggest hitters and tough guys. Can Tom Wilson transition into a complete player, or is this his role going forward? Also: Jay Beagle. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals 2015-16 Season Preview: Left Wing

Of all the positions on the Washington Capitals, perhaps the one with the least transition or confusion is left wing. It’s a mostly veteran unit, led by the game’s greatest goal scorer of his generation. It also includes a budding young star, a young veteran coming off a career year, and a grizzled vet trying to hang on for one more year.

Who’s In/Who’s Out
In: None
Out: Aaron Volpatti, Curtis Glencross
Depth Chart: Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera
On the farm: Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker

Alex Ovechkin (30, 6’3″, 239, shoots left. 81 games, 53-28-81, +10, 58 PIMs. 25 PPP)

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

If moving Ovechkin back to left wing wasn’t the very first thing Barry Trotz did after he was hired last summer as coach of the Caps, it couldn’t have been very far down on the list. Worries that Trotz’ systems would hinder Ovechkin’s goal-scoring pace and creativity turned out to be unfounded. One of the brightest highlights of last season was Trotz finding freedom for Ovi to be Ovi, while coaxing his big left winger to participate in defensive responsibility and “buying in” to the team approach.

Try this one out — Alex Ovechkin has scored 136 goals in the past three seasons. Second on the list is Joe Pavelski… with 94. In fact, there are only five other players with more than 80 goals, and eight total with more than 70 goals over that time period. Simply put, he’s the finest goal scorer of this generation, and so far he isn’t slowing down with age.

However, GM Brian McLellen realized that if the team is going to win a Stanley Cup with Ovechkin and running mate Nicklas Backstrom, he needed to surround them with more talent. Last year, he seriously upgraded the defense. This offseason, he added T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. While “now or never” might be drastic, the next two or three years might be Ovechkin’s best opportunity to hoist a Cup.

Andre Burakovsky (20, 6’3″, 198, shoots left. 53 games, 9-13-22, +12, 10 PIMs, 2 PPP)

Andre Burakovsky Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Burakovsky had a somewhat up-and-down season last year, but that’s not to be unexpected for a 19-year-old. He showed extreme skill at times, and at others seemed to get lost on defense. He has decent size and doesn’t seem to shirk from contact, and his showing in the playoffs for the Caps (once given an opportunity) showed promise that he can be a reliable Top-6 option for the team this season. He can play wing or center, but Trotz seems to like him on the outside. Burakovsky seemed to drive play when he was given the opportunity last season and his development is integral to the Caps success. A 20-25-goal season isn’t outside the realm of possibility from the 20-year-old.

Marcus Johansson (24, 6’1″, 209, shoots left. 82 games, 20-27-47, +6, 10 PIMs, 3 PPP)

Marcus Johansson during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Johansson picked a great time to have a career season. Entering an RFA season, Johansson was a relatively consistent source of offense as his goals and shots on goal totals eclipsed his previous career highs. In fact, he was second on the team in even strength goals at 5×5. The good news is that his shooting percentage wasn’t an aberration, so Johansson was just a living embodiment of Gretzky’s first axiom of goal scoring: You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take. Getting him off the top line — where he rightly deferred to his more talented linemates — did Johansson a world of good. Who he lines up with this season will be fascinating, especially with the development of Burakovsky. You could do worse with Johansson as your third line left winger.

Jason Chimera (36, 6’3″, 216, shoots left. 77 games, 7-12-19, -1, 51 PIMs, 0 PPP)

Jason Chimera Washington Capitals Practice, 10/07/2014 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

(Photo: Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Old Stone Hands’ offensive production continues to dwindle. While his speed is still world class, he limits his usefulness by increasingly taking bad selfish penalties. Chimera’s utility should exclusively be limited to killing penalties and a checking line at this point in his career, and it’s hard to see Trotz using him in any other role — except for the “gritty veteran” factor. Chimera was second on the team in goals-against-per-60 minutes, so he’s still hard to play against, but he contributes next-to-nothing on the other end.

On the farm: Jakub Vrana was the Caps’ 2014 first round draft pick out of Czech Republic. He played for Linkopings in the Swedish league last season netting 12 goals and 12 assists in 44 games before joining Hershey for three regular season games, registering five assists, and 10 playoff games, where he scored two goals and four assists. Nathan Walker is a diminutive (5’8″) 2014 third round pick, born in England and raised in Australia. He’s the first Aussie drafted by the NHL and a great story, but two seasons at Hershey has netted six goals in 71 games.

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Starters

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Max Scherzer
2014 AL: 33 games, 220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (6.0 WAR) [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Outfielders

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen [Read more…]

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Infielders

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

FIRST BASE

Ryan Zimmerman
2014: 240 PAs, .280/.342/.449 with 5 HRs, 184 RBIs (0.4 WAR). .948 FD% at 3B.

We’ve seen this coming for several season. With the expiration of Adam LaRoche’s tenure with the club, the Face of the Franchise ™ moves across the diamond to first base on a permanent basis. Some would say ‘about time.’ Now 30, Zimmerman’s throwing problems at third base were well-documented and his time in the outfield last season can be described as non-harmful at best. He made some plays, but the spectacular nature of some only outlined his lack of mobility for the wide open pastures of left field. It’s a shame, really, because before he injured his shoulder diving head-first into second base he really was one of the best defensive third basemen in the game. His bat will play at first, especially if he can get 500 plate appearances, but we’re all left wondering where he could have ranked on the all-time third base list if he could have stayed there.

Tyler Moore
2014: 100 PAs, .231/.300.385 with 4 HRs, 14 RBIs (0.4 WAR). .948 FD% at 1B.

Ah, Tyler Moore. Some saw his power numbers in the minors and salivated. Sure, he was old at every level and didn’t really have a position, but he kept hitting home runs — 31 two years running in Potomac and Harrisburg. Surely, the skill would translate as he ascended into the big leagues! Well, maybe, maybe not. Moore still has power, but more (Moore) often than not flails away at the better pitching in the big leagues. It’s a story told time and again about thick-bodied minor league sluggers without a natural position on the diamond (cough Steven Souza cough). Moore has hit 10 homers in both of the past two seasons at Syracuse and now represents little more than a bat off the bench and emergency starter. If Zimmerman can’t give them 500 plate appearances, the team could be in a little trouble.

SECOND BASE

Yunel Escobar
2014: 529 PAs, .258/.324/.340 with 7 HRs, 39 RBIs (-0.2 WAR) with TBY. .965 FD% at SS.

The Nats traded older prospect Steven Souza Jr Tyler Clippard for the much-traveled shortstop with the hopes of plugging him into the abyss at second base. Escobar was one of the worst fielding shortstops in all of baseball last season by any metric you’d like to use, so the move to second base should help him recover some value. GM Mike Rizzo said Escobar battled back and hamstring issues all season long which affected his fielding. While hamstrings heal, back issues are usually chronic in nature. All that aside, his bat is pretty meh, especially for a guy that stays in the lineup every day, apparently whether he’s healthy or injured. His last good year was in 2011 when he hit .290/.369/.413. But his average has been .253, .256, .258 in the three years since. It’s a shame Rizzo felt like he had to give up a prospect of value for this skill set.

Danny Espinosa
2014: 364 PAs, .219/.283/.351 with 8 HRs, 27 RBIs, 8 SB/1 CS (0.0 WAR). .990 FD% at 2B, .978 at SS.

The reason Rizzo felt like he had to trade for Escobar. Espinosa once tantalized with 20-20 capability with Gold Glove caliber defense. But after playing through shoulder and hand injuries, plus complete ineffectiveness from the left side, Espinosa is left trying to resurrect his career as a backup middle infielder. There’s a shred of hope that within his split against lefties last season (.301/.374/.485) there’s a serviceable right-handed hitter in there, as Rizzo said in the offseason Espinosa would abandon switch-hitting. But Espinosa hasn’t seen a breaking ball go away from him from a right-handed pitcher in 15 years, so it’ll be a fascinating transition should be become proficient at it. His defense is still very good at second and short, and at least we know he can still hit lefties, so there’s utility in that.

Wilmer Difo
2014 Low-A: 610 PAs, .315/.360/.470 with 14 HRs, 90 RBIs, 49 SB/9 CS.

Difo tore up the Sally last season at age 22 for Hagerstown. It came as a shock, since he’d hit a combined five home runs in his previous four minor league seasons and had hit above .265 once. He can run and is a decent fielder but has played all over the infield, so the Nats aren’t really sure where he’ll end up playing. Second base will probably be where he settles though, but he split duties just about down the middle between there and short last season. Difo’s eye-popping numbers from last year put him on the radar, now he’ll have to live up to his newly-minted “prospect” status. Double-A has a way of separating guys that had a good year in the Sally (a year old for the level) from true prospects.

THIRD BASE

Anthony Rendon
2014: 683 PAs, .287/.351/.473 with 21 HRs, 83 RBIs, 17 SB/3 CS (6.5 WAR). .958 FD% at 3B.

It’s hard to articulate how good a season Rendon had in 2014, and where his offensive game could still go. He was fifth in the N.L. in MVP balloting as a 24-year-old and won the Silver Slugger at third. He is, simply, one of the best offensive players in the league and a fine defender at two positions as well. The Nats have elected to keep him at third base, his natural position, choosing to acquire Yunel Escobar to play second base full-time. And oh yeah, still a couple of years yet before he hits “peak.”

SHORTSTOP

Ian Desmond
2014: 648 PAs, .255/.313/.430 with 24 HRs, 91 RBIs, 24 SB/5 CS (2.8 WAR). .963 FD% at SS.

Desmond turned in another 20-20 season, his third in a row and third consecutive Silver Slugger. The production isn’t the concern with Desmond, who’s turned himself into one of the most consistent offensive performers at shortstop in the Majors. The defense isn’t the problem either — though he made a few more errors last season, he makes up for that in range and arm. With Desmond, you know what you’re gonna get on the field. As everyone knows by now, though, he’s a free agent at the end of the season, was subject of trade rumors all winter long, and will probably test the open market once the season concludes. The Nats even took precaution against Desmond leaving by trading for not just one shortstop prospect, but two, over the winter. I’d say the Nats are preparing for the likelihood of Desmond playing elsewhere next season.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VI: Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?

Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Dave: I think eventually Kuznetsov will be the most impactful player of the trio, but I think all three have solid futures as NHL players. Kuznetsov has an intrinsic, dynamic element to his play that you can’t teach and once he develops some of the secondary attributes that Barry Trotz wants out of all his players, he’ll thrive at this level.

That’s not to take anything away from Burakovsky or Wilson. In fact, I can envision the three of them playing together as a second line in the not-too-distant future. It’s not hard to look at Kuzy and Bura and not envision them developing chemistry like another Swedish center and Russian winger on the team. Wilson could be the prefect complement to the duo with his size and skill level.

Katie: At the end of last season, when Kuznetsov finally arrived in Washington, he had all the hopes of an impact player placed upon him. Now that Burakovsky has made the team, is playing second line minutes, and is clearly extremely skilled, I think Burakovsky will outscore Kuznetsov. I’m not so sure about Wilson’s role this season, once he returns from injury, but I think it would be fair to predict he won’t be doing fourth line time. Ideally, it would be nice to see all three young players in the top-6 at some point this season, and there’s certainly room for that.

Eric:  I think it’ll be Kuznetsov, barely. He looked good in the games he played toward the end of last year and has gotten some valuable advice from Ovechkin.

J.J. : Burakovsky. He is getting his shot at second line center and he has responded well. Kuznetsov will move up from the fourth line sooner rather than later, but he will likely be moved around as a wing as he continues to adjust to the North American game. As for Wilson, I would not be surprised if he spent some time in Hershey this year. The Caps want to see him develop into a top six forward, but given the number of players the Caps have on offense right now, he might be better served to get top line minutes in the AHL before taking a more significant role with the Caps.

Abram: Burakovsky. The kid has a magical touch with the puck, and will singlehandedly carry the fourth’s line offensive output, assuming he stays there. If he develops the way the team hopes, he’ll drastically improve the offense. From what we’ve seen early on, the skill is there, he just needs to not be tied down on a line with some combination of Beagle, Latta, O’Brien, or Volpatti.

Harry: I think Evgeny Kuznetsov will have the biggest impact on this team. As good as Burakovsky has looked, he will almost certainly slow down a little bit and is still learning a new position. Wilson, even when healthy, won’t see a lot of ice time with the players he deserves to play with because of how many highly-payed veterans the Caps have down the right side. Ultimately, Kuznetsov has the most polish, is probabaly the most talented, and is likely to see the most opportunities. A top-four finish among Caps forwards in scoring is not out of the question.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part III: Projections for Ovi

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?

Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season? [Read more…]

Will 2014 bring renewed competition from the Washington Redskins?

The Washington Redskins organization — and its legion of passionate fans — hopes that the 2014 season, which starts today against the Houston Texans, brings a renewed sense of competition for the division title, which boasts no real front-runner, and the postseason. There are still a lot of questions no one knows the answers to, but we’ll start to see those questions answered today.

The biggest question in everyone’s minds is whether or not new head coach Jay Gruden can revitalize Robert Griffin III’s career, returning him to the promise and production he exhibited by taking the team to the playoffs after the 2012 season, only to see it end with him — and the team’s playoff chances — crumpled on the ground after his left knee imploded on the soft FedEx Field turf against the Seattle Seahawks.

What followed was a nightmare of epic proportions. That offseason was chock-full of controversy; between Griffin, former head coach Mike Shanahan, team doctors, and the team’s public relations machine. To complicate matters, Adidas decided to turn Griffin’s rehab into an offseason-long commercial, thus rushing him to be ready for the 2013 opener.

He was not ready, and it showed. All season long.

Griffin was half the player he was before injury, unable to run away from linebackers and jumpy in the pocket. And who wouldn’t be, playing behind a vastly overmatched offensive line. All the while, the head coach and his son (the offense coordinator) tried in vain to save their jobs.

They were unsuccessful.

Griffin was eventually shut down before the end of the season, mired in more bad blood and negative public relations.

The offseason brought plenty of changes — to the coaching staff and to the roster. The team added personnel to the receiving corps, defensive backfield and special teams, all areas of need. But there wasn’t much reconstruction of the offensive line, the cornerstone of all good offenses.

It’ll be hard for Griffin to prove anything if he’s flat on his back.

The secondary was probably the next weakest part of last season’s roster, full of players that were past their prime, not ready yet, or too-often suspended. They infused that area with several players, but we’ve already seen injury and another suspension already weaken one of the weakest spots on the team.

It’s rough when the biggest addition to a unit over the offseason could be a cut-down day waiver-wire claim.

But here we are, opening day, where anything can happen.

There are a lot of questions yet to be answered. Hopefully fans will be able to enjoy the process, rather than dwell on results.


District Sports Page will be covering the Washington Redskins this season with a renewed vigor of our own. We’ve added several new staff members dedicated to covering the team. You can find the bios of all of our writers on our staff page. They are all devout fans of the Burgundy and Gold and will report, analyze and opine in a comprehensive manner.

And if you missed it, we had a multi-part series of position previews to get ready for the new season.

We hope that you will add us to your reading list for information, news, analysis and opinion this season.

Washington Redskins 2014 Season Preview Part VIII: Outside Linebackers

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

In Part I, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.
In Part II, Eric Hobeck examined the situation at running back.
In Part III, Joe Mercer previewed the wide receiver corps.
In Part IV, Joe Ziegengeist evaluated the offensive line.
In Part V, Joe Mercer reviewed Jordan Reed and the tight ends.
In Part VI, Neil previewed the defensive line.
In Part VII, Joe Miller previewed the inside linebackers.

Here is our preview of the outside linebackers.


Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

Ryan Kerrigan sacks Eli Manning in 2011. (photo by Brian Murphy)

In this day and age, NFL teams must employ an elite pass rush.  The reasons are numerous, but the most important one is that it is becoming more and more difficult for a secondary to defend in this league.  Rules designed to protect receivers and running backs, the essential cash cows of the NFL, are limiting defensive backfields from being physical with receivers and throwing off their timing with the quarterback.  This is where the pass rush comes in, and Jim Haslett’ 3-4 attacking defense could be just what the doctor ordered.

The Washington Redskins defensive theme this offseason was to un-cuff and unleash the pass rush.  This will mostly begin and end with Washington’s Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo.  The sixth year Texas product is playing under the franchise tag this season and will be looking to put up impressive numbers to secure a huge contract that he thinks he deserves.  Last year, Orakpo amassed 10 sacks and combined for 60 tackles, and even added an interception return for a touchdown to his resume.

However, these numbers do not put him into the upper echelon of elite pass rushers in the game and Orakpo needs to improve upon his sack total in 2014 if he wants Jay Gruden and Bruce Allen to invest in a new contract for him.  He has expressed sincere interest to remain a Redskin for life and did not seem to perturbed when the franchise tag was placed on him.  The feeling should be mutual between Orakpo and the front office if he posts another Pro Bowl-type season.

On the other side, outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan will be focusing on one thing: being a consistent really, really good pass rusher.  Kerrigan has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his brief career, but he is now a veteran in the league and will also be looking to improve upon his 8.5 sacks a year ago.  Kerrigan does a great job of instinctively knowing what the quarterback is going to do; you will see him get his hands in the air to either tip, spike, or intercept a pass that a quarterback usually tries to throw a quick screen with.  Kerrigan can make him pay and has often done so.

Many Redskins fans scratched their heads when the team traded back in the second round and then selected a player who occupied what was once perceived a position of strength.  However, through mini camps, OTA’s, and training camp and the preseason, fans began to see just what Bruce Allen saw in young Trent Murphy out of Stanford.  He is an opposing presence at 6’6″ and looks explosive, two traits you love to have at a pass rushing position.

The All-American led all of college football with 15 sacks in 2013 and was first team All-Pac 12 two years in a row (’12 and ’13).  Though he is listed as a backup on the depth chart, Murphy will almost certainly get mixed in for different blitz packages throughout the regular season.

The final outside linebacker for Jim Haslett’s defense is third year LB Gabe Miller of Oregon State.  Miller unseated 2012 NFC East division title hero Rob Jackson for the final OLB spot after an impressive performance in the final two preseason games.  Also, and probably most importantly for this coaching staff, he seemed to impress special teams coach Ben Kotwica enough to warrant a roster spot.  Miller doesn’t figure to see much defensive playing time but he is a solid option if Orakpo or Kerrigan go down.

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