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Cincinnati coach makes trip to see Boilermakers

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Cincinnati coach makes trip to see Boilermakers

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) One of Purdue's top coaching candidates visited campus Sunday.

But will Butch Jones be coming back on a permanent basis?

One day after Cincinnati clinched a share of its second straight Big East title, the Bearcats' coach got a look at the facilities in West Lafayette while meeting with school officials. A person with knowledge of the trip but who requested anonymity because the athletic department was not providing coaching search updates told The Associated Press that Jones was on campus.

Jones is considered one of the nation's hottest coaching prospects. He reportedly met with Kentucky officials about their job opening last month and reportedly will be at the University of Colorado on Monday - if he doesn't take the Purdue job first.

But Jones has attempted to downplay interest in any jobs other than the one he currently has.

``I'm not going to talk about that,'' he told reporters following Saturday's 34-17 victory at Connecticut. ``That's absolutely ridiculous. It's about our kids tonight. You know what, it'll all work out, but this is a night for the kids and for our football program.''

The Boilermakers are looking to replace Danny Hope, who was fired last Sunday after going 22-27 in four seasons. The Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) won their last three regular-season games to qualify for the postseason - a run that still couldn't save Hope's job.

Purdue found out Sunday it would play Jan. 1 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and held a short news conference to discuss the bid. Athletic director Morgan Burke gave an opening statement but again did not take questions about the coaching search.

Jones went 27-13 and won two Mid-American Conference titles at Central Michigan after replacing Brian Kelly, and when Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame job three years later, the Bearcats turned to Jones, too. He's gone 23-14 in three seasons and earned a share of the last two Big East crowns.

If Jones leaves Cincinnati, he would become the third straight coach to leave after just three seasons. Kelly and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio did the same thing.

Purdue receivers coach Patrick Higgins, who has been calling the plays since offensive coordinator Gary Nord hurt his back, has already been named the interim coach for the bowl game.

Higgins, quarterback Robert Marve and defensive tackle Kawann Short were more focused on their next game rather than the rumors and speculation swirling around Purdue.

``We're preparing to win a game, as we always do,'' Higgins said Sunday. ``We can work on fundamentals and get back to basics and we have two weeks to put in a game plan, which is great.''

Getting Jones is no slam dunk, though.

The 44-year-old coach was reportedly a candidate at Illinois, North Carolina and UCLA last year but opted instead to accept a three-year contract extension in Cincinnati.

This week, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Bearcats athletic director Whit Babcock was so intent on keeping Jones that he was willing to redo the contract again.

Jones' guaranteed compensation this past season was $1.575 million, and he will get $1.6 million in guaranteed money in 2013 if he stays in Cincinnati. The buyout will reportedly cost $1.4 million if Jones takes a new job before Jan. 1.

Hope earned a Big Ten-low $950,000 in guaranteed compensation last year, and Burke has already acknowledged he is willing to spend more on his next coach.

Jones has quickly become the fans' favorite choice, a key factor, too, as Burke tries to rebuild interest in a program that has seen attendance dwindle from an average of roughly 54,000 per game in 2007 to about 37,000 last season.

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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USA TODAY Sports

With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—All-Redskins mock, fast-fading interest in Dez

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, April 21, five days before the 2018 NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington

Should the Redskins pursue Dez Bryant? This topic was one like a meteor, very hot for a short period of time before it quickly faded out. It started to heat up as soon as the Cowboys cut Dez (about a month too late) and when it was reported that he wanted to play against Dallas twice a year it really picked up steam. But then people started to actually think and figured out that signing Bryant didn’t make much sense for the Redskins. Add to that the reports that the Redskins had no interest and would not look into signing Dez in the future and the Redskins fans quickly lost enthusiasm for the topic.

Seven-round Redskins mock draft—I think that most Redskins fans would be happy with this mock. Well, I’ll say some Redskins fans, most is a pretty strong word in this case. 

Is the draft pool deep enough for the Redskins to trade back? There is plenty of talk about the Redskins trading down in the first round to recoup the third-round pick they gave up in the Alex Smith trade. But they need to be careful. Many consider the draft to be top heavy and they may lose their chance to pick up an impact player if they trade back too far. The question then becomes one of quality vs. quantity. 

Three questions as offseason workouts get underway—There will be plenty more questions that we can ask about this team. But we don’t really know what to ask before the draft, particularly when it comes to the defensive line and running back. One the personnel settle into place we will know what we don’t know. 

Tweet of the week

On Chris Cooley’s thought that the Redskins might try to trade back and get Da’Ron Payne in the draft and the use the assets obtained to move up to get Derrius Guice. 

This is related to the questions about trading back. On paper it looks like a good idea, assuming the Redskins want Payne. We’re pretty sure they would like to have Guice but we haven’t heard as much about the Alabama defensive lineman. 

I had many reply that Guice won’t be there in the second round. It’s possible, perhaps even likely, but you just don’t know. There was zero chance that Jonathan Allen would be there at No. 17 last year, right? 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS.

Timeline  

Days until:

—OTAs start (5/22) 31
—Training camp starts (7/26) 96
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 141

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