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Shurmur: 'I'm not worried about saving my job'

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Shurmur: 'I'm not worried about saving my job'

BEREA, Ohio (AP) The Browns are still mathematically alive in the AFC playoff hunt. It's a long shot, but they haven't been eliminated with three games remaining.

And with every win, Pat Shurmur's odds of returning as Cleveland's coach improve.

With his team riding a three-game winning streak - the Browns' longest since 2009 - Shurmur feels good about the progress of his young team, which is finally showing an ability to finish games after so many close losses earlier this season.

But despite the good vibes emanating from one of the NFL's youngest teams, there remains uncertainty about the future.

Swirling around Shurmur are rumors and reports, one on the weekend involving Alabama coach Nick Saban, that the Browns intend to make a coaching change. The clock seems to be ticking on Shurmur, who insists he's not focused on anything but getting his team ready to play their next game.

``Listen, I'm not worried about any of that,'' Shurmur said Monday. ``I'm not worried about saving, I'm worried about doing my job and that's it. I just want to do my job.''

Shurmur will have at least three more games to strengthen his case to return, starting Sunday against the Washington Redskins, who won't know until later this week if they'll have rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. He sustained a mild sprain of a ligament in the right knee against Baltimore and it's too early to know if he'll be ready.

After starting 0-5, the Browns (5-8) have turned their season around, and Sunday's 30-7 blowout win over Kansas City was Cleveland's best all-around performance. The Browns gave up an 80-yard touchdown run to Jamaal Charles on the game's opening play, but responded by scoring 30 unanswered points and posted their most lopsided win since 2003.

It was another positive sign for Shurmur, who seems to be improving in his second season along with his roster of rookies, first- and second-year players. Shurmur was quick to point out during his news conference that Cleveland's rookies have combined to make 72 starts - a league high. Indianapolis is second with 44.

``That's good for the future because we're finally starting to find how to win football games with these young players,'' Shurmur said.

There's progress on both sides of the ball. Cleveland's offense is showing better balance behind rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who is learning to manage games and not force as many passes as he did earlier this season. The defense, anchored by a deep line, is showing signs of becoming a dominant unit and playing with a nasty attitude.

The Browns, who lost at least 11 games in each of the past four seasons, are beginning to blossom.

``I don't want to override my boundaries with, `We're the best team,' or say stuff like that, but we're putting something together here and it's going to be beautiful,'' said rookie running back Trent Richardson, who scored twice in Sunday's win to tie Hall of Famer Jim Brown's franchise rookie record with nine rushing touchdowns.

``We haven't arrived yet, but we're just trying to win to get to the next level and be an elite team.''

It remains to be seen if Shurmur will be around to coach the Browns once they move to a higher tier.

Owner Jimmy Haslam paid $1 billion to buy Cleveland's franchise, and he and new CEO Joe Banner may have already made up their minds to hire a new coach. If that's the case, the Browns' record over the final three games - home against Washington and road games at Denver and Pittsburgh - may not matter.

But if the Browns run the table, finish 8-8 and somehow make the playoffs, it would be difficult to explain not bringing Shurmur back for a third year.

Incredibly, the playoffs are still possible, but Shurmur said he has not raised any postseason possibilities with his team.

``I'm not going to focus on that,'' he said. ``Our energy, our efforts are all going to be directed toward the Redskins and that's where we need to be. It's a little bit easier to be shortsighted and narrow-minded with three games to play and I think we have to make sure we stay in the moment.

``We all know the math changes if you don't take care of business this weekend, so that needs to be our focus.''

In recent weeks, Shurmur has displayed more outward support toward his players. On Sunday, he kicked himself for pulling backup running back Montario Hardesty after he fumbled at the goal line. On Monday, Shurmur explained that he challenged a ruling that Josh Cribbs was down at the 1-yard-line because ``I wanted Josh to have a touchdown and I thought that was worth it.''

Shurmur is fighting for his players, and they're fighting for him - with every win.

It's all jelling for the Browns, and now it's a matter of whether it can stay that way.

``I've always been fond of our team,'' Shurmur said. ``What I like is they're tough, they play hard and when we ask them to do things they respond. They're a very coachable group. There's a mixture of young guys and older guys that have been around here a long time and when you see it all come together and they have success, that as a teacher or a coach, that's where you get your joy.''

NOTES: Shurmur was convinced RG3 would transform whatever team drafted him. He praised the Redskins for maximizing the QB's strengths. ``There was no doubt in my mind that he would be a success in this league,'' he said. ``No doubt. It doesn't surprise me the success, and I credit their coaching staff because they have incorporated things in their offense that utilize his skill and ability and that's smart.'' ... Weeden made an awkward slide on a scramble in the first quarter Sunday, ripping up a huge chunk of turf in the process. ``That was the hardest, roughest looking slide I've ever seen,'' Shurmur joked. ``I thought they were going to stop the game and bring out a dump truck.'' ...The Browns signed TE Brad Smelley from the practice squad to the active roster and waived DL Ronnie Cameron.

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Star NBA draft prospect Michael Porter, Jr. likely out for season with back injury

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Star NBA draft prospect Michael Porter, Jr. likely out for season with back injury

There was a potentially major development in the 2018 NBA Draft on Tuesday, as news broke that star Missouri freshman Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo back surgery that could keep him out for the rest of the season.

Porter, 19, will have a "microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs," according to the school.

Porter played in just one game, and for only two minutes, after entering this season as one of the top recruits in the nation.

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A 6-foot-10 forward, Porter is projected by most mock drafts to be a top five pick. He is highly skilled for his size with the ability to shoot and handle the ball.

It's too early to project how much this will affect his draft status, but injuries this serious often cause players to slide.

Nerlens Noel tore his ACL as a freshman at Kentucky and was picked sixth the following summer despite once being considered the top prospect in the draft.

Joel Embiid suffered a back injury as a freshman at Kansas, yet was still taken third in a what was a deep class. It depends on the injury and the potential of the player.

There's a chance Porter returns this season. He has a recovery timeline of three-to-four months, which means he could be back in March. But with hopefully a long NBA career ahead of him, it wouldn't seem wise to risk it.

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.

Why?

One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

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You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”