WTOP Sports Blog

Pujols hits 500th career homer in Nats Park

Posted on: Wednesday 4/23/2014 3:24pm

Aug. 26, 2010: Bryce Harper in the booth with Ben Raby, Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes. (Courtesy Ben Raby)

WASHINGTON -- As the ball left Albert Pujols' bat and flew over the left- centerfield fence at Nationals Park for his 500th career home run, Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper barely moved.

Harper looked over his left shoulder and saw Pujols' shot land in the red porch seats for the milestone long ball.

It wasn't the first time that Pujols hit a memorable home run at Nationals Park, nor was it the first time that Harper was a witness to Pujols making history in D.C.

On Aug. 26, 2010, the former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman connected off Nats starter Jordan Zimmermann for his 400th career home run. Harper, who was still 21 months shy of his Major League debut, just happened to be at Nationals Park that day for his introductory press conference after signing his first professional contract ten days earlier.

As part of his first formal visit to Nationals Park, Harper's itinerary included a brief appearance at batting practice, a formal press conference with the local media, photo ops aplenty, and one inning visits with both the Nats' radio and television broadcast teams.

It was during Harper's fourth inning visit to the Nationals' radio booth that the then-17-year-old watched as Pujols, one of his favorite players growing up, connected on his 400th career home run.

Harper spent the inning with radio voices Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler with Pujols leading off the top of the fourth. Below is a transcript of how the at-bat unfolded, including Harper's on-air broadcasting debut.

Jageler: Top of the fourth inning, Nationals 3, Cardinals 1. We're a three- man booth here for this half inning with Bryce Harper joining us- the Nationals first-round pick… And Bryce, you were talking at your press conference, you had a chance to talk to Pujols today and it's not the first time. You've met him a few times over the last year or so.

Harper: Yeah Albert is a great guy, he's a really humble person and [cut off by the crack of the bat]

Jageler: Here's a swing and a long drive, deep right center, [Nyjer] Morgan going back, way back to the track and there it goes.

Harper: And it's gone.

Jageler: Into the seats in right-centerfield. Home run number 34 for the National League leader, Albert Pujols, and his second in five career at-bats against [Jordan] Zimmermann… I know he's your guy, as he's just hit his 400th career home run, Bryce you're a little witness to history with career home run number 400 for Albert Pujols.

Harper: Yeah, I told him before the game, I said ‘you're going to hit 400 tonight right?' And he said ‘I don't know, we'll see,' and I said ‘Yeah you will, definitely.'

Jageler: Well truth be told, you were talking to us five seconds before we went on the air saying that we might see history and sure enough, we did.

Nearly four years later, Nationals Park was again the site for some Albert Pujols history as the Angels first baseman hit his 499th and 500th career home runs in last night's 7-2 win over the Nationals.

"What's so special is to be able to hit 400 here and to be able to hit 500," Pujols told reporters after becoming just the 26th player in Major League to hit as many as 500 home runs. "That's something that's pretty special… I had a good feeling that it was going to be a special day. As players and athletes, you just have a feeling."

The 34-year-old Pujols became the third youngest player to hit 500 career home runs, while Harper, who doesn't turn 22 until October, already has 43 career long balls.

The Nationals and Angels close out their three-game series tonight at Nationals Park. Listen to the broadcast with Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler on WFED 1500AM at 7:05 p.m. Coverage begins with Nats On Deck at 6:30 p.m.

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Here we go again: 'Skins sign DeSean Jackson

Posted on: Thursday 4/3/2014 5:20pm

AP: 8f67746248c245568cbc23e9812dc2d0-0
The Redskins have signed DeSean Jackson after he was cut by the Eagles earlier this year.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON -- Here we go again.

As the ink begins to dry on the contract between the Washington Redskins and ex- Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, we the media begin analyzing a very complicated situation.

Let's get the on-field aspect out of the way, that's obvious. The Redskins just got a whole lot better on offense and special teams. Jackson is one of the fastest players in the league and he's a legitimate threat to break a game open every time he touches the ball.

Add to that the money: Jackson comes to town on a 3-year, $24 million deal with $16 million guaranteed. That's almost a discount when you consider comparable receivers like Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace make far more.

So, on paper (or on Madden), this looks great.

But when was the last time something that looked good on paper looked good on the field for the 'Skins?

The Redskins suddenly have an embarrassment of riches. Pierre Garcon is coming off of a 113-catch season. Jordan Reed promises to be a top-flight option at tight end. The 'Skins also have Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Andre Roberts on deck. What happens if Jackson isn't not getting enough targets? Does he play good soldier or does he start acting like Terrell Owens?

Let's be honest: The Redskins track record with signings like these is long and wrought with failure. Yes, new coach Jay Gruden's fingerprints aren't on that rap sheet. But Dan Snyder's are. And as long as he's at the top of the Redskin pyramid, I'm of the belief this team lacks the organizational structure to properly support a move this risky.

Jackson comes to D.C. with baggage. There doesn't appear to be much substance to the rumors of his gang affiliation, but a guy with a reputation for not getting with the program and not having a strong work ethic is the antithesis of what the 'Skins need on the heels of the Mike Shanahan disaster.

New England can handle that. So can Pittsburgh, Baltimore and maybe Seattle. But not the team that recently gambled on Donovan McNabb and failed miserably.

Perhaps Gruden gets the most out of Jackson. Maybe we can finally test the leadership of Robert Griffin III. There's a chance veterans like Santana Moss and the newly-signed Ryan Clark help DJax emulate Cris Carter--another former Eagle who turned his life and his career around outside of Philly.

I'm just not eager to lay any money on that wager.

That said, the Redskins had to roll the dice. The price was right, the fit seems good and their conservative approach to free agency early in the offseason opened the door for them to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. Team history would suggest this transaction will be a fruitful one.

But they'll have to prove their locker room and organization is strong enough to buoy up a player like Jackson, who perhaps needs a little more motivation than most players.

If this works, the NFC East is the 'Skins' for the taking. If it doesn't, they're right where they were before the move: grasping at straws and searching for answers.

As usual, this should be interesting.

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Injury for Nats on final spring training day in Florida

Posted on: Thursday 3/27/2014 5:20pm

The Nats practice in Viera, Fla. on the last day of spring training. (WTOP/George Wallace)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- On the final day in Florida for the Nationals, the team got some concerning news.

Off-season addition Doug Fister exited a minor league game after one inning with a strained right lat muscle. He was scheduled to throw 60 pitches.

Fister has dealt with elbow inflammation, which occurred after his first spring start on March 2. He finally was able to pitch last Saturday and pitched well against Miami going 3 2/3 innings allowing two hits and striking out four.

Fister tried to build up his arm strength in order to make his first start on April 6 at Nationals Park. After the outing on Thursday he was scheduled to throw in one more minor league game and then be ready for his start.

All of that is in question now and Matt Williams is definitely concerned.

"He will see the doctor in Washington tomorrow (Friday) and we will evaluate from there. It's definitely a setback."

Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan both pitched very well this spring and are fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation. Both are scheduled to pitch in the exhibition game Saturday at Nationals Park against the Tigers and right now it is hard to imagine both of them not making the rotation with the uncertainty of Fister's health.

This has been a possibility all spring and that's one of the reasons both are still in camp.

"They both earned the right to pitch," Williams said.

As far as Fister's availability for the start of the season, "We will have to see what the doctor says and where we're at," he said.

J Zimmermann is ready

Jordan Zimmermann concluded his dominant spring with five innings of work allowing no runs on four hits. His totals this spring were 18 innings pitched, 15 strikeouts, only one walk and one earned run. His ERA was 0.50. He starts game three of the year next Thursday in New York.

Second Base

Matt Williams said he is leaning toward starting Anthony Rendon at second base, at least for the opener.

"I think it's premature at this point, still, to declare anybody but I'm leaning toward Anthony in that regard."

This isn't a surprise, it was his job to lose coming into Spring Training. Danny Espinosa has made the team and has had a pretty good spring.

One More

The Nationals will play one final exhibition game Saturday at Nationals Park against the Tigers. It all starts for real next Monday at Citi Field against the Mets.

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Orakpo the right call for Redskins

Posted on: Tuesday 3/4/2014 2:03pm

Brian Orakpo has been designated the franchise player for the Washington Redskins. (AP)

WASHINGTON - Yesterday, just 90 minutes before the league-imposed deadline, the Washington Redskins designated Brian Orakpo their franchise player.

Throughout the next few days (and maybe even months) many will question the wisdom in this transaction. I'm here to tell you it was the right call.

The Redskins wrestled with this decision. Then mulled over it some more. Finally, general manager Bruce Allen and company arrived at the decision that made the most sense for all parties involved.

They slapped Orakpo with the non-exclusive rights franchise tag, meaning he'll play the 2014 season at the average salary of the top five paid players at his position (which for linebackers is $11.455 million). Orakpo has the right to negotiate with other teams, but the 'Skins get the opportunity to match any offer. If 'Rak goes elsewhere, the Redskins get two first round draft picks as compensation -- which would be awesome for a team that hasn't had a first round pick in any of the last two drafts.

The latter scenario is highly unlikely. With just 39.5 sacks in his five NFL seasons, Orakpo hasn't distinguished himself nearly enough for someone to pay that steep a price for his services. Even the Redskins are on the fence about him because he's shown flashes that he can be elite, but he's never put together a full season of evidence to support that notion.

However, Orakpo is the best pass rusher on a team devoid of defensive talent. Just letting him walk shouldn't be an option. At 27 years-old, he's entering his prime. He's the healthiest he's been in years. This season, he'll play in a defense he already knows and promises to play more to his strengths.

Yes, paying one man over $11 million is steep. But that's the going rate for pass rushers, folks. Only quarterbacks will cost you more.

That's where some of the detractors of the Orakpo tagging lose the point. The Redskins have roughly $30 million dollars in cap space to play with. Spending a third of that space on a homegrown guy with the potential to be a great player at the most important non-QB position isn't a bad investment.

Furthermore, this regime has proven they're bargain shoppers in free agency. They haven't targeted the big-name players; they go for the second-tier guys who fit their system and won't blow up their budget. Pierre Garcon is the biggest free agent signing since 2010, and he came here on a 5-year, $42.5 million deal -- a contract that pales in comparison to some of the other deals the previous regime handed out for way less production.

After Garcon's 113 catches for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns in 2013, I can picture Allen sitting in a VIP booth at some swanky lounge saying, "I don't spend big often...but when I do, they produce."

Oh wait...I may be thinking of someone else. But I digress.

Chances are, the $20 million in leftover cap space will be more than enough to address other needs -- many of which won't get addressed in free agency this off- season anyway. This front office builds through the draft, so much of that cap space probably isn't getting used anyway.

The real issue seems to be people either overestimating or underestimating Orakpo. He's not elite, but he's definitely not a scrub either. He's a good, but not great, player and it's hard to really put a price tag on his true value.

That said, Orakpo can dictate that price in 2014. If he comes out and has an impact year (i.e.--15 sacks, six or seven forced fumbles, and maybe another pick six for good measure), he'll get top-flight money. If he has another 10 sack season (seven of which came during the Redskins' 8-game losing streak to end 2013), Orakpo and the 'Skins are right back to square one.

That's why the Redskins did the right thing by franchising Orakpo. It buys them one more opportunity to see what they have in their three-time Pro Bowl linebacker.

If he finally plays up to his potential, it'll be money well spent.

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Nats spring training: Jayson Werth's beard lives

Posted on: Saturday 2/22/2014 7:48pm

Bullpen session for Stephen Strasburg. (WTOP/Jonathan Warner)

VIERA, Fla. -- Greetings from wet Viera, Fla.

It was the first rainy day of spring training, but the Nationals completed their morning workouts before the afternoon thunder boomers hit the area.

Indoors, I had the chance to sit down with Matt Williams. I first asked him about his managerial makeup. Remember, he played for such skippers as Dusty Baker in San Francisco, Mike Hargrove in Cleveland, plus Buck Showalter and Bob Brenley in Arizona.

Williams says he gets his preparedness from Buck, who he describes as ultimately prepared. He calls Dusty a player's manager - meaning he was a combination big brother, father and confidant. When the D-Backs won the 2001 World Series, Williams says Brenley let the players police the clubhouse because it was a veteran club.

So, he's taken a piece of all the managers he's played for. But, he calls Dusty his mentor since he was his hitting coach first, then manager.

They still keep in touch.

Among the many things we talked about, I found out his favorite baseball movie is "Major League. " He likes comedies.

We'll run a lot of the interview on WTOP as the season approaches.

When it comes to the regular season, Williams says he may not have a set lineup game-to-game. He's still working that process out. However, he's sure Denard Span will leadoff. Bryce Harper will be all over the top of the lineup, maybe even bat fifth, while Jayson Werth prefers to hit third, but is open to other spots.

Williams did add that while he would like to flip-flop from a lefty to righty to lefty batter throughout the lineup, he still might stack the power guys in the middle. Last season, Davey Johnson tried to go with a lefty-righty-lefty 1-8 but when the team struggled, he mainly abandoned that idea in search of offense.

Williams posts a quote every day on the top of the workout schedule .

Friday it was "it takes a great deal of stamina to pursue success."

Saturday, it's "perfection is unattainable, but the pursuit of perfection is imperative."

Williams says the reason for the daily messages is to give the players something to think about. If they talk about it, even better. He does admit there is some plagiarism when coming up with the quotes.

Three players became new fathers this off-season: Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg. None of them seem stressed out about their new responsibilities. They're about as low-key as you can get. Strasburg says parenthood puts everything in perspective. And, he's even changing diapers. Well, once in a while he admits he chips in. Plus, he and his wife are lucky. He says his daughter is sleeping through the night.

As for pitching, Strasburg says his elbow's been fine ever since he had bone chips removed right after the season. He likes the presence and energy that Matt Williams brings to the club and glad that pitching coach Steve McCatty is back. He says you know what to expect from "Cat."

And finally, because I'm sure you wanted to know, Jayson Werth's beard lives.

Did you think it wouldn't?

However, he admits he trimmed it right before reporting to camp. And now, Adam LaRoche and reliever Ryan Mattheus are sporting healthy growths, giving Werth serious competition for the biggest beard on the team.

Werth says it was usually no contest in the past. Now, he guesses he came in third.

He's alright with that.

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Column: Michael Sam opens doors for gay athletes

Posted on: Monday 2/10/2014 3:16pm

Michael Sam, #52 of the Missouri Tigers, celebrates with fans after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 9, 2013.(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON - "I'm not afraid to tell the world who I am. I'm Michael Sam. I'm a college graduate, I'm African-American, and I'm gay."

With those words, the idea of an openly gay professional athlete in one of the four major sports leagues is close to reality.

Assuming Michael Sam is drafted in May (the senior defensive end out of Missouri heads to the NFL scouting combine as a projected 3rd-4th round pick), he'll become the first openly gay player in NFL history, thus ensuring the leap to the NFL isn't the only leap of faith he's taking.

As LZ Granderson points out, Sam is far from the first gay player in the NFL. Jerry Smith's name is right here at FedEx Field in the Redskins Ring of Honor, and his tale was recently recounted by NFL Network's "A Football Life" series.

But Sam is the first player to come out before his career officially begins, rather than at a point during or after his playing days. All he will know is the scrutiny and media attention stemming from his bold announcement.

The genesis of Sam's decision is laid out in detail

here. I think he played this exactly the way you have to when you're breaking something this big: He shared his truth with the people around him, then shared it with the public before the story got ahead of him.

San delivered his message on his terms without having to respond to rumors or reports from anonymous sources.

Sam's draft status shouldn't suffer. He's one of the best defensive ends in one of the best conferences in college football so he figures to garner some attention from teams seeking to bolster their pass rush.

It'll come down to whether teams are willing to take on the distraction of the media attention he'll attract.

The early reaction around the NFL has been mixed thus far, but I believe things will eventually get better for Sam as time goes by.

Hopefully, he'll go to a team like New England that has strong leadership and a quality support system in place. This ensures he'll not only maximize his talent, but his opportunity to eliminate any stereotypes or negative connotations associated with his lifestyle.

However, that shouldn't be Sam's focus. His publicist Howard Bragman hits the nail on the head:

"Michael is a football player, not an activist," Bragman said.

"If you start showing up at too many dinners and too many parades, you start to send the message to a potential team about his priorities. The community wins when he steps onto an NFL field and plays in a game, not as the grand marshal of a pride parade. He may do that eventually, but the first year needs to be all about football."

Hopefully, removing the burden of secrecy will help him do that. I hate the comparison of racial discrimination to the intolerance of sexual orientation, but the struggle for equality is largely similar.

Sam will need to do more than stick to an NFL roster to tear down barriers for gay athletes the way Jackie Robinson did for race in baseball.

That's why the weight and the impact of this announcement can't be overstated.

After watching Sam in his ESPN interview, it's apparent he's confident and comfortable in his own skin. He's also overcome a lot of adversity and personal tragedy in his life, perhaps making him uniquely suited as a trailblazer for gay athletes. He's taken the first step and some of the heat off subsequent young athletes brave enough to be who they are without worrying about public perception.

Seeing the locker room doors open for gay athletes is long overdue.

Here's hoping history will remember Michael Sam as the man who opened those doors and left them open for more homosexual athletes bold enough to be true to themselves.

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New coach has American off to 8-0 start in Patriot

Posted on: Wednesday 1/29/2014 9:11am

AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - As of Tuesday morning, Mike Brennan had an 8-0 conference record in his debut season as head coach at American University.

He also had some fresh advice from mentor and basketball legend Pete Carril, who had sketched a plan for beating the press on the back of a box score -- a piece of paper that could probably net a hefty price at a Sotheby's auction in about 30 years.

But Brennan had nothing on his walls.

They were white and bare, except for the studs left behind when former coach Jeff Jones moved out last year. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, just to give the room some atmosphere -- and to supply a decent background when Brennan is doing on-camera interviews -- assistant director of athletic communications Mike Gambardella hung a photo from the 2009 Patriot League title game and a poster.

Brennan, 41, kept right on working. He's a coach, not an interior decorator.

"He's very, very passionate about basketball," senior center Tony Wroblicky said. "Coach Jones was, too, but I think coach Brennan's on a slightly higher level."

From Princeton to American with a stop at Georgetown, Brennan has taken a team projected to finish ninth in the 10-school Patriot League and transformed it in a hurry. Using his single-minded basketball focus, Brennan got the players to buy into his version of the Princeton offense made famous by Carril. Share the ball. Do a little bit of everything. Oh, and look for the backdoor cut.

"It's just getting guys to be skilled, getting them to share the ball, that's probably the biggest obstacle," Brennan said. "Getting people to share goes against human nature."

Brennan played for Carril at Princeton in the early 1990s and coached for seven years on the Tigers' staff. Then came two seasons as an assistant at American under Jones and four years at Georgetown working for another Carril protégé, John Thompson III.

When Jones left for Old Dominion, Brennan didn't have to leave Washington, D.C., to get his first head coaching job, leaving the Hilltop at Georgetown for AU Park. It took a few games for his offensive philosophy to take hold: The Eagles went 4-7 in nonconference play, including a 63-52 loss at Ohio State.

But things have started to click. AU won a first-place showdown with Boston University last week by 30 points.

"Princeton, I was kind of unsure about that" at first, Wroblicky said. "But I couldn't be happier playing under it right now."

There's always room for improvement, however. Carril attended the BU game and found a flaw or two in the 86-56 victory.

"We got pressed a bit and turned it over a couple of times," Brennan said, "and he was drawing something on the back of a box score, saying, 'Hey, try this against the press.' He's a teacher at heart, and he's a coach at heart."

Ever since American moved to the Patriot League from the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001, the running joke in D.C. circles has been that AU's coach is hired to win one game per season -- the conference tournament championship game that guarantees an NCAA berth.

Jones prevailed in 2008 and 2009, and Brennan will have to do the same to get to the big dance. Even an unbeaten league record might not be enough to get the Eagles' RPI out of triple digits.

But 8-0 is a pretty good start.

"It's nice to have some success in the league," junior guard John Schoof said. "But it still comes down to the end of the year to tournament time. That's definitely the main goal, is the Patriot League championship -- and hopefully more than that."


Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

NFL Championship Sunday Recap: Called it

Posted on: Monday 1/20/2014 7:36am

Seattle Seahawks' Robert Turbin celebrates after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 23-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON - Well, well, well. Look who's back in business.

Before the season, I picked the Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Which means this is the 4th time in the five years I've done NFL Recaps I've correctly predicted one of the two Super Bowl participants in the preseason.

Hopefully, that gets me back some of the street cred I lost predicting the Redskins would go 11-5. But I digress.

What we have here, folks, is a good old-fashioned showdown in New Jersey. The Seahawks will bring their top-ranked defense to MetLife Stadium against the record-setting Denver Broncos offense led by Peyton Manning. Having those two units on the field, facing-off to decide who wins the Lombardi Trophy just seems apropos.

We've got two weeks to dissect this game, so I won't burn all my material now. But I will point out this tweet from Tony Dungy after the game: "This reminds me of 30 yrs ago. 1984 Dan Marino and Miami looked unstoppable on Offense. Played Ronnie Lott and a physical 49er D in SB XIX."

At a time when the NFL is shifting away from the old "Defense Wins Championships" credo, Seattle has a chance to reverse that perception. Meanwhile, Peyton is in position to cement his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all-time.

It's a team easily seen as the villain (c'mon...nicknames like Beastmode and the Legion of Boom lend themselves to that, no?) vs. the feel good stories of John Fox (back from midseason heart surgery) and Peyton Manning (from career-threatening neck surgery to greatest single season for a QB ever).

Thus, it's the Super Bowl we deserve, even if it's not the one we need right now. Can't wait.

On to the final NFL Recap of the season. I'll give you a moment to compose yourself.

Patriots 16

Broncos 26

Typical of my 2013 season, New England's injury-riddled lineup stalls out in Denver a week after I proclaimed them as "back." Instead, they're back home. Given what they had to overcome this season, they should be proud to get this far...even if Tom Brady is now just 2-4 in the postseason against the Manning family.

I just had to chuckle reading some of the "See? Peyton CAN Win the Big One" tweets. Manning was awesome on Sunday. Dude threw for 400 yards in a playoff game (for an NFL-record 3rd time), something his boss John Elway never did for the Broncos. But let's be real...this game was this game. It wouldn't change his past performances and certainly doesn't affect his future ones. Let's all just appreciate the masterpiece he put together against the Pats and save the legacy talk until after the confetti has fallen in New Jersey.

Niners 17

Seahawks 23

The Beats By Dre ads would lead you to believe just about every player walks into the stadium thinking they're "The Man". Only one left the stadium having proved it: Richard Sherman.

Yes, he's brash. Yes, he's easy to hate. But like Wes Mantooth, we gotta respect him. He's the best player on the league's best defense, and he's taking Seattle to their 2nd- ever Super Bowl.

Colin Kaepernick posted his 2nd career 100-yard rushing postseason game, and already has the 2nd-most rushing yards by a QB in playoff history. But until he gets his game together as a passer, San Francisco will continue to fall short.

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Gruden: he's got what the Redskins need

Posted on: Friday 1/10/2014 11:55pm

WASHINGTON - When the Washington Redskins decided to fire Mike Shanahan last week, many of us began the "Gruden Watch."

The Skins got Gruden. Just not the one we were thinking.

It's Jay Gruden who's been tabbed to lead the Burgundy and Gold, not his older brother Jon, who coached Tampa Bay to their lone Super Bowl in 2003, and currently resides in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth.

We don't know if Jon was ever truly on the Redskins' wish list, but we know there's a warm spot in general manager Bruce Allen's heart for the Gruden family from their time together in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers organization.

Jay doesn't just carry the family name, though it's a good one. In addition to his brother's success, his father Jim was a longtime coach and scout. But he's paid his dues. He's coached for over 15 years at various levels, and was the head coach and general manager of the United Football League's Florida Tuskers. Even though he hasn't done so yet in the NFL, he's got experience running a team -- which puts him ahead of the curve as far as first-time head coaches are concerned.

As the events of Wednesday and Thursday unfolded, it became increasingly obvious that key assistants like Sean McVay on offense, and Jim Haslett and Raheem Morris on defense — all who worked with Gruden and Allen in Tampa Bay -- were retained because of their ties to Gruden.

Which of course leads one to believe Gruden was the target all along.

I know what you're thinking -- typical Redskins. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many have applauded the Redskins new direction, with perhaps the most respected voice of praise coming from the architect of the great Redskins teams of the 1980s, former general manager Bobby Beathard.

Beathard, in a local interview, lauded the move, calling it a "great hire," and went on to say that when he was spearheading his own coaching search back in 1981, he spoke to a young offensive coordinator named Joe Gibbs even before Jack Pardee was fired as coach of the Skins. Beathard told Gibbs the job was his if he wanted it, and told him so before he interviewed other candidates. Beathard went through with the interviews in the name of due diligence, but knew Gibbs was his man all along.

Oh, and part of that process? He had to see if Gibbs was prepared to work with the Redskins' difficult quarterback, Joe Theismann.

Sound familiar?

By all accounts, Gruden is an innovative coach. He's considered a good communicator, and a fiery coach (which this appearance on Hard Knocks hammers home. I'd advise not watching it at work or in front of the kids). One of his former players describes him as Bruce Banner during the week, but the Incredible Hulk on game day.

The 'Skins could use a guy like this.

On paper, he looks like a good hire. Gruden is a younger coach (he'll be 47 in March) with pedigree, has coaches he's familiar with already in-house (an advantage he didn't have in Cincinnati), and already has a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III -- who enters this off-season fully healthy. Thanks to his refreshing enthusiasm and bluntness in the introductory press conference, Gruden has already proven himself far more likable than Shanahan ever was.

The real question is: Can he truly change the culture at Redskins Park and overcome the dysfunction and toxic atmosphere fostered by owner Dan Snyder? And in doing so, can Gruden get RGIII to buy what he's selling?

That's the task that awaits the Redskins' 28th head coach -- the man who talks like his brother and looks like Cary Elwes.

Time will tell if he can coach like Joe Gibbs.

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NFL Wild Card recap: The reseed rationale

Posted on: Monday 1/6/2014 12:26pm

AP: 824598a963f44963a4b343dee1e2b307-1
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) talks to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) after an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 23-20. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

WASHINGTON - In the days leading up to Wild Card Weekend, there was some discussion surrounding whether the NFL should change the way playoff seeding works.

The reasoning was simple: Teams like the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers shouldn't be rewarded for winning a crappy division by enjoying home-field advantage against teams like the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers, whose greatest sin is sharing space in the NFC West with the juggernaut Seattle Seahawks.

So the thought is, why not reseed the playoffs and send that game -- and games like it -- to the team with the better record?

I totally understand that rationale. But I disagree.

Profootballtalk.com makes a compelling argument for a potential reseeding, but I don't necessarily think the current alignment is broken.Yes, we've seen three examples of lopsided matchups in the last four years. But I would make the case that those games were determined by far more than just the location in which they were played.

The 2010 example of the 11-5 Saints losing to the 7-9 Seahawks had more to do with New Orleans having a crappy defense (remember that epic Beast Mode TD run?) than playing on the road.

The 12-4 Steelers losing to the 8-8 Broncos in 2011? Yes, they had to play without Ryan Clark because of the Denver altitude (which wouldn't have been an issue had the game been played in Pittsburgh) but if you call an all-out blitz on 3rd down in overtime (even if the QB is Tim Tebow), you deserve to lose (especially when the QB beating you on that play is Tim Tebow).

Furthermore, reseeding based on record basically eliminates the upside of winning your division. To me, you're trading off one disservice for another. Yes, in theory, a team with a gaudy record should host a playoff game. But then the cardinal sin becomes an overload of one division in the postseason.

For example...would it really be fair if we bumped the 8-win Packers from the playoffs this year in favor of the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals? Are two wins really worth swapping out a team with winning records in their division and their conference for a 3rd place team that went 2-4 in their division and 6-6 in- conference?

Now that would be a travesty.

Further validating the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" end of the debate, three out of four road teams won during Wild Card Weekend. Plus, two of those three teams sport better records than the division-winner they beat.

In our society that often overreacts to perceived slights, it's hard for some folks to live with this reality: Sometimes the best course of action is to leave well enough alone.

But if you feel like you absolutely have to do something, read the Wild Card Recap:

Chiefs 44

Colts 45

Is there any surprise that Andrew Luck authored the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history in just his second career playoff game? Or that Andy Reid's questionable play-calling and/or time management were on display on the other sideline?

Saints 26

Eagles 24

For those keeping score at home, this makes the first-ever road win for New Orleans in six tries. I kinda think they're over the whole Bountygate thing now.

As for Philly...this makes four straight playoff losses and a second straight one- and-done for an NFC East champion. Eagles fans should just be happy to have won a division coming off a 4-12 nightmare...but have you ever tried to console that fanbase? It rarely ends well.

Chargers 27

Bengals 10

It's hard to tell if this game was the result of San Diego enjoying life without Norv Turner or if this is another in a long line of choke jobs by Cincinnati. Given Andy Dalton has thrown 6 picks against only one TD in his three career postseason losses, and Marvin Lewis is now a Schottenheimer-esque 0-5 in the playoffs -- I tend to believe the latter.

Niners 23

Packers 20

All week, I literally laughed out loud at people giving Green Bay the advantage in this game because of the sub-zero temperatures. I mean, aren't people aware the Packers QB (Aaron Rodgers) is from California and San Fran's QB (Colin Kaepernick) is from Wisconsin?

Oh, and the most intimidating homefield advantage in pro football is now officially the stuff of legend. The Pack were 13-0 at Lambeau Field from 1939 to 2001. Since then? They're 3-5.

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