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Former Kent State teammates Saban, Pinkel meet

Former Kent State teammates Saban, Pinkel meet

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Nick Saban will have a reunion of sorts from Kent State's 1972 Mid-American Conference championship team, since he couldn't make the first one.

The Alabama coach was a safety on that team 40 years ago, while Missouri's Gary Pinkel was the star tight end. They'll be opposing coaches for the first time Saturday in Columbia, Mo., instead of teammates and co-workers.

They share an alma mater, a mentor, Don James, and pretty impressive coaching track records. And James will be pulling only for a pristine game that shows the strong coaching he expects. Rooting for one ex-pupil would be too much like rooting against the other.

``It's like having two sons out there,'' James said.

Pinkel flew to Ohio for the real reunion before Kent State's Thursday night opener in August. Saban couldn't make it since that's when he hosts his weekly radio show and Alabama happened to have a big game against Michigan two days later in Texas.

Now, they're Southeastern Conference rivals since Missouri joined the league - much to the chagrin of James.

``I like them both and cheer for them both,'' said James, who might have to record this one to see Washington play. ``I wish that Gary hadn't gone into the Southeastern Conference.

``He can recruit and he can coach, so he'll be all right.''

Pinkel is getting a rough indoctrination to the league that Saban and the Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) have been presiding over with two national titles in the past three seasons and a shot at No. 3. The Tigers (3-3, 0-3) are still seeking their first SEC win.

The two coaches speak fondly of one another personally and professionally, but Pinkel said they didn't hang out during their college days.

Saban was a year ahead of Pinkel. They're the coaching hotshots from a team that also included Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert. They both worked as graduate assistants under James, who went on to win a share of a national title with Washington in 1991.

``When we both became GAs, it was pretty evident to me that he could be a really, really good coach,'' Saban recalls. ``So it's no surprise to me that he has been an outstanding coach for a number of years. We were both fortunate to have been exposed to Don James as players and as young coaches. Gary spent more time with him than I did. It certainly helped our systematic approach to how we do every part of our program, whether it's personnel, academics, developing players, whatever that may be. It doesn't surprise me at all that he's turned out to be a fantastic coach.''

Pinkel said he remembers the two discussing going into coaching at the Kent State library.

``Obviously we're friends,'' Pinkel said. ``We just kind of grew apart, because he went to a different part of the country. I think Don James had a big influence on both of us. He came to a program that was down and out and built a championship team.''

That championship came more than two years after four Kent State students were killed and nine others wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen during an anti-war protest.

``Talk about a university that needed something tremendously positive to happen,'' Pinkel said. ``Back then, we called them hippies - nice folks, a little bit different from me. But you know what? They came to games, and were into it, excited ... It united us.''

Saban quickly climbed the coaching ranks and recommended Pinkel as his replacement when he left after one season at Toledo to become the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator in 1991.

Pinkel, who held that job until leaving for Missouri 10 years later, had been Washington's offensive coordinator under James.

``Nick, every time I needed a coach, he wasn't available,'' James said. ``I would have hired him in a heartbeat. He got head jobs earlier and went in the NFL. I was impressed with him because I'd see him at the convention once or twice a year and I was impressed with how far he had come in defensive knowledge.''

James spent a day with Saban and his team in California before the national title game in Pasadena after the 2009 season.

He also scored some tickets for his granddaughter to the title game against LSU two years later. Saban had to turn down his invitation to the Kent State reunion but he was still a topic of discussion.

``I think the whole team just kind of had the same feeling that I did: This was one of the guys that I played with and I know, and look what he's done with his life,'' James said. ``And he's making, what, $6 million or so. He's done well.''

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

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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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