The Titans choose their starting QB...

The Titans choose their starting QB...

From Comcast SportsNet
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans aren't waiting any longer: Jake Locker is their starting quarterback. Titans coach Mike Munchak said Monday that Locker will start this season over veteran Matt Hasselbeck, choosing to go with the passer Tennessee hopes to build around after drafting Locker out of Washington in April 2011. Munchak announced the decision after practice, saying Locker gives the Titans their best chance to win the AFC South as their quarterback this season and hopefully for many seasons to come. "By no means has this job been given to him," Munchak said. "He's earned it." The Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32) had let the quarterbacks compete through the offseason, with each starting a game this preseason and splitting snaps in practice. Munchak says Hasselbeck was way ahead of Locker last season, but Locker caught up and won the job with his ability to move the team and score points. The eighth pick overall in 2011, Locker will play 40 to 50 snaps Thursday night against Arizona (No. 23) with three weeks to prep for the opener Sept. 9 against New England. "It's really cool," Locker said of the decision. "It's something I'm proud of, but it's not going to change my approach on how I practice or my preparation for a game. That will still all be the same, but it is cool to be given this opportunity." Locker also said the competition with Hasselbeck allowed both to push each other in a positive way. "It forced you to come back and try to rebound or build on what you had done before," Locker said. Munchak said giving Hasselbeck the news was a tough conversation. Munchak helped talk the veteran into signing a three-year deal with the Titans last July after the NFL lockout ended, and Hasselbeck turned in the fourth-best season in yards passing in franchise history. Only Hall of Famer Warren Moon had thrown for more. Hasselbeck also helped Munchak go 9-7 in his debut season as head coach, just missing a playoff berth on a tiebreaker. Munchak said Hasselbeck was exactly what they needed with his leadership and experience. The veteran said he's been in Locker's shoes and knows it's an exciting move for the young quarterback. "I had the chance to help lead a franchise and help build a program, and I had a chance to be the guy under center, and he's got that chance right now," Hasselbeck said. "As hard as it was, Munch made his decision, and as hard as it was for me to hear that, I'm also excited for Jake. I'll help and support him any way I can, and I'll be happy to do it." Locker has the mobility Hasselbeck is lacking going into his 14th season. Combined with his toughness and strong arm, Locker started 40 games for the Huskies, throwing for 7,639 yards with 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions. With the Titans, Locker threw for 542 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions coming off the bench in five games as a rookie. "When Jake did get a chance to play last year, he was ready to go," Munchak said. "He played well and handled situations. He moved the team. He brought excitement and energy, and when the season ended, we thought we had something special, like we did when we drafted him." In his NFL debut as a starter last week -- a 30-7 win at Tampa Bay -- Locker struggled and was intercepted on his second pass. He was just 4 of 11 for 21 yards but also ran twice for 24 yards, including a long scramble of 21 yards. It's that mobility paired with a revived Chris Johnson that the Titans hope will rev up an offense that was next to last in rushing last season.

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Caps players acknowledge there is a mental block holding them back

Caps players acknowledge there is a mental block holding them back

Barry Trotz does not think the Capitals’ history of playoff struggles has created a mental hurdle for the team to overcome.

“I think they’re all past that now,” Trotz said to reporters at the team’s breakdown day. “I think it’s so overworked by [the media] and everybody else that it’s actually becoming a joke to the guys.”

Well, the Caps weren’t laughing after their Game 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In some ways, Trotz is correct. Losing to Jaroslav Halak in 2010 is not why Washington lost to Pittsburgh this year. Giving up a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers in 2015 is not why the Caps were shutout in Game 7 by the Penguins.

RELATED: Backstrom scores decisive shootout goal to win Worlds

But there does seem to be a mental hurdle the team has not been able to overcome and the players feel it.

“I just think mentally we have to just get over it and stop crumbling in certain situations,” John Carlson said.

“I think that a lot of it's mental,” Matt Niskanen said. “It's pretty clear that we could play really well in the regular season. It's either a mental thing or how we're built or how we play the game or something. We can't play well enough to advance as is.”

Even a player like Kevin Shattenkirk, who does not share the team’s history and was new to the Caps as a trade deadline acquisition talked about the cloud that seems to hang over the organization.

“You can feel it,” Shattenkirk said. “Of course you can feel it. It’s everywhere surrounding this team. It’s media. It’s the fans. It’s the players.”

Even before the players spoke, given how the Penguins series played out, it was clear the Caps were struggling with the mental pressure of the playoffs.

Washington lost its first two games against the Penguins, their archrivals and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Facing a must-win situation in Game 4 to avoid a 3-1 series deficit and with no Sidney Crosby, the Caps laid an egg and lost 3-2 in a game in which they never led.

Things changed when Washington went down 3-1. At that point, everyone assumed they were going to lose. With no pressure on them, the Caps looked like a completely different team winning Game 5 and blowing the Penguins out in Game 6. Suddenly with the series back within their grasp in Game 7, with all the pressure back on their shoulders, Washington collapsed again and failed to even score in a 2-0 shutout loss.

“I think once we got down 1-0, you almost felt it,” T.J. Oshie said of Game 7. “The building kind of got quiet, we kind of got quiet, and we didn't find a way to regroup and respond in time to win the game.”

Even Trotz, who was adamant this team’s history is not what is holding the Caps back, acknowledged that the Penguins clearly have a “mental edge.”

“They just believe that they can beat the Washington Capitals so that's the barrier, that's their advantage right now just because they've done it,” Trotz said. “… When everything's on the line, they believe they're going to get maybe that break where a team like us who haven't broke through, maybe we don't believe we're going to get that break.”

But here’s the problem: If the past has created a mental block, how can you overcome that? That’s the issue this team is now grappling with as it tries to determine what direction to go in and how much change is needed to finally get over that mental hurdle.

“There's really nothing we can do to change the past unless we do it in the future,” Carlson said. “I think maybe we've got to get over the fact that we haven't had that much success and that's all we talk about.”

“We can't play well enough to advance as is,” Niskanen said. “Something's got to change. I don't know what it is, but as is we didn't play well enough. That's the way it is.”

MORE CAPITALS: A bitter end to a better year

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Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Redskins 2017 OTAs to-do list: It's time to find a nose tackle

Free agency is done. The draft is history. Rookie minicamp is in the rearview and the 90-man offseason roster has been filled out. Now comes the difficult part for Jay Gruden and his staff: putting it all together. With OTAs set to begin on Tuesday, Redskins Insiders JP Finlay and Rich Tandler will examine top priorities on Gruden’s to-do list as he prepares the team for training camp in Richmond later this summer.

Up today …

Nose tackle

Finlay: There's a lot to do on the Redskins defensive line, and it starts in the middle. Expect free agent addition Stacy McGee to have a big opportunity to take over the nose tackle job. McGee ranked as a +5.5 run defender last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and at 6-foot-3 and 308 lbs., he has the size to man the middle. McGee has plenty of talent, health has been his hiccup. He has only played all 16 games in one of his four seasons, and in 2016, he played only nine games.

Beyond McGee, the Redskins have some lottery tickets. Practice squad players A.J. Francis and Joey Mbu both have the size to play nose, but neither have the experience. Could Francis or Mbu emerge for significant snaps with the Washington defense? Sure, but it would be unexpected. 

A bigger lottery ticket remains. Phil Taylor, a former first-round pick in 2012, has shown serious talent at the nose tackle position. At 6-foot-3 and 337 lbs., Taylor certainly has the size for the spot. At the same time, Taylor hasn't played an NFL game since 2014, losing both 2015 and 2016 to injury. Counting on Taylor would be short-sighted, but if he can remain healthy, there could be big value.

According to Jay Gruden, the most important piece of the nose tackle puzzle will come from new defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Gruden said he expects Tomsula to "make" a nose tackle and improve the Redskins D-line. It's a tall order, but Tomsula has an impressive track record working in the trenches. 

Tandler: The organization’s refusal to get a legitimate nose tackle either in free agency or in the draft will lead to them again spend the spring and summer trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

That’s what they did last year with Ziggy Hood. He took a lot of snaps at nose tackle and he simply wasn’t a fit for the job. It wasn’t his fault that the Redskins allowed a league-worst 5.0 yards per rushing attempt on first down; he’s an end and he was much more effective there.

Matt Ioannidis, a 2016 fifth-round pick, also took some snaps at nose, with similar results. At 6-3, 308, he just doesn’t have the size to be effective.

The worst part of it here is that they really can’t get too far in identifying the 2017 nose tackle. In the spring with no pads and no contact allowed they really can’t do much besides work on technique and learn assignments. Tomsula’s effort to “make” a nose tackle won’t really get going until they get to Richmond in late August.

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