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Pinkel: Mizzou to stay course despite SEC flop

Pinkel: Mizzou to stay course despite SEC flop

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Like most football lifers, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is a creature of habit.

So rather than linger over a disappointing SEC debut that saw the Tigers go 5-7 and break a seven-year streak of bowl appearances, the 60-year-old coach showed up ready for work on Monday, starting with his usual 5 a.m. weightlifting session.

``I love what I do,'' Pinkel told reporters Tuesday, quickly dispelling rumors of his pending retirement or even a change by his bosses. ``I couldn't wait to get into work.''

Pinkel said he has no plans to make dramatic changes to the team's once-prolific spread offense or other schemes and will retain his entire coaching staff, most of whom have been by his side for years. That doesn't mean more modest modifications aren't in order.

``I embrace the foundation of our program when things get tough,'' he said. ``But then, we evaluate every single thing we do here, all the time, always. That's never changed.''

The season began with high expectations for Missouri, which left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference in hopes of building a national brand, gaining more long-term stability and reaping more TV revenue riches. Instead, the coach's 12th season in Columbia turned into one of his most trying, from lopsided losses to SEC powers Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, to off-field challenges such as the early season drug arrests of several freshmen players, and Pinkel's divorce from his wife of nearly 40 years.

Faced with a shot to salvage the season with a .500 record and another bowl bid, Missouri fell flat in its final game, a 59-29 loss at Texas A&M - another Big 12 refugee - that saw the Aggies open a 42-0 lead late in the first half.

Missouri's only conference wins in eight tries came against Kentucky and Tennessee, two schools that wound up firing their coaches.

Pinkel's comments were largely measured on Tuesday, with the coach who normally wears Mizzou workout gear instead dressed in a suit and tie for a friend's funeral later in the day. He was more open with his disappointment one night earlier, telling a statewide radio audience during his final weekly coach's show that the subpar season ``just destroys me personally.''

He offered qualified support for junior quarterback James Franklin, who missed all or parts of nearly half the team's games with shoulder and ankle injuries and a late-season concussion. His replacement, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, was erratic, but both played behind an offensive line wracked by injuries. The third-string quarterback, highly touted recruit Maty Mauk, took a redshirt and didn't play this season

``Quarterback is no different position for us than any other,'' Pinkel said. ``The best player plays. There's no pecking order. ... Everybody will have an opportunity to win the job.''

On defense, Pinkel seemed fairly certain that defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will not return for his senior season, calling the mercurial lineman who missed a narrow home loss to Syracuse for violating team rules a likely first-round pick in the NFL draft.

``If I was a betting man, I'd think he's going to go,'' Pinkel said.

And while Pinkel didn't discuss next season's opponents, Missouri has a more forgiving 2013 schedule than in its inaugural SEC campaign, with home games against Murray State, Toledo, Florida, South Carolina , Tennessee and Texas A&M and road trips to Indiana, Vanderbilt, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi.

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Alan Scher Zagier can be reached athttp://twitter.com/azagier

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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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