Many travelers find layovers in Atlanta trying, if not flat out miserable. This week former University of Maryland star Jordan Williams is no exception. The rising second-year forward was handed his walking papers by the Hawks afterbeing shipped to Atlanta as part of the trade that sent All-Star Joe Johnson to Brooklyn. Sounds like Williams was caught up in a numbers game after the Hawks re-signed forward Ivan Johnson.After conditioning issues delayed the start of his rookie campaign, Williams averaged 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 43 games for the Nets. Notastonishing numbers, but the burly Williams provided decent bench punch whiledisplaying his soft touch around the rim, making 50.7 percent of his attempts. Those rebounds project out to a solid 8.8 over 36 minutes according to Basketball-Reference.com. In other words, sure he wasn't a first-round pick and sure he likely will never be an NBA starter and sure his decision to turn pro early - Williams would be entering his senior season this year - looks more dubious by the minute, but he's got skills. Some around the league already are speculating that it won't be long before some team snaps up the 21-year-old. No, can't imagine it's the local outfit, not with their logjam up front, but some team makes the move.
There is plenty of talk about the possibility of Redskins running backs Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson getting more carries as Matt Jones sorts out his ball handling issues. But there may be some real obstacles to giving either alternative to Jones a lot more game action than they have been getting.
Thompson is the third-down back. During training camp, when there could have been competition for the starting job, Thompson seemed to be reluctant to throw his hat in the ring.
“You know every guy always dreams of being the starter but for me, since I’ve been here, I’ve understood what my role is,” he said in August. “Even though I’m labeled as a third-down back my role still can continue to expand. I could possibly be that No. 2 to Matt if he gets tired I can be the one that’s spelling him here and there.”
That’s not a guy telling the coaches “give me the damn ball”. He is a tough guy but the laws of physics say that a player who is 5-8, 195 won’t last forever getting 25 touches a game, week in and week out.
Not that Jay Gruden is particularly anxious to have him handle the ball more than he did against the Lions (12 carries, 7 receptions).
“I think that’s a great number for him,” said Gruden. “We don’t want to overdo it with him—he’s still not a very big guy.”
As for Kelley, Gruden said, “Rob is doing a nice job with the limited time that he gets. Maybe it’s just expand Rob’s role a little bit.”
Kelley has done a pretty good job running the ball, although his average of 6.1 yards per carry is inflated by his 45-yard run against the Eagles. Outside of that run he has averaged a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry.
But it’s not really that; it seems that he will be productive if he gets the carries. The problem with Kelley may be that a running back is expected to do more than just run the ball and the rookie may not be ready to take on the expanded duties that being a running back who takes forty snaps in a game has to handle.
Per Pro Football Focus Kelley has 31 snaps, 17 rushing attempts and he has gone out on passes seven times. He has been asked to pass block just three times. Blitz pickups are a critical part of the position and it seems that the coaches don’t yet trust Kelley to execute those.
The running back situation is a complex puzzle and the pieces are moving. What seems almost certain is that all three back, including Jones, will get a crack at the Bengals’ rushing defense, which is ranked 24th in the league in terms of yards allowed and 25th in yards per attempt.
After enjoying three of their first five games at home to start the season, the Capitals now must pack their bags for a long road trip that will take them through western Canada.
The upcoming four-game road trip, the team’s second longest of the season, will take the Caps to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg. They will not host another game at Verizon Center until Nov. 3.
Despite facing a long trip away from home and the Caps’ faithful, Barry Trotz is excited by the prospect of the early trip.
“I think it'll be good for us,” he said. “I think last year we got our game going when we went out to Canada last year. Doesn't mean we're going to get it going this year at all, but it started on the road trip.”
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Last season, the Caps hit the road in October for a three-game swing against Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton. The Caps won all three of those games by a combined score of 16-8 to improve their record to 6-1-0. That trip was the first true glimpse of the Presidents’ Trophy winning team the Caps would become.
While everyone enjoys playing in front of their fans and sleeping in their own bed, long road trips can be beneficial when it comes early in the season as teams build chemistry among the players.
“I think what it does is, it's just hockey,” Trotz said. “It's guys playing hockey.”
All the distractions of home are gone when players hit the road. Rather than just practicing together, the players end up spending all their time together bonding. The only worry is hockey.
But the benefits of a road trip are limited if the team can’t find success.
“If we come back with a winning record, I'll say it's great and if we don't, I don't think it's very good,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think everybody says that ahead of the trip and then it might change your mind afterwards. Sometimes your record or your success has a lot of impact on what people really think about those trips.”
Unlike last season, this trip will not feature weak Canadian squads.
Edmonton and Vancouver are two of the hottest teams to start the season. Winnipeg, meanwhile, boasts talented rookie Patrick Laine.
If the Caps hope to use this season’s road trip as a springboard to the top of the standings as they did last year, they are going to have to earn it.
But for Trotz, he sees benefits to this trip beyond just the standings.
“On the road, I think it never hurts,” Trotz said. “It never hurts for your group.”
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