Redskins

Surprising Colts growing up faster than expected

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Surprising Colts growing up faster than expected

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Andrew Luck prefers designing projects to rebuilding them.

Perhaps that's why the No. 1 draft pick with the architectural degree threw out Indy's long-term blueprint and devised his own creation.

By ignoring the traditional learning curve for rookie quarterbacks, he's flipped the discussion in Indianapolis from hopeful futures to immediate playoff possibilities faster than anyone could have anticipated.

``I think a big thing for us is realizing you are a rookie, that doesn't mean you have to play as a rookie,'' Luck said after rallying the Colts to yet another win. ``You don't have that excuse. This team needs us, the rookies to perform well and perform well now, and I think guys have taken that to heart.''

The Colts have passed that test easily.

In seven weeks, Indy (4-3) has doubled its victory total from last season, ended a 10-game road losing streak and has local fans talking about playoffs in the city that made that single word famous thanks to Jim Mora.

Yes, it's early, and, yes, these are still the Colts who have 13 rookies and first-year players on their active roster, but success wasn't supposed to come this quickly.

When the Colts released Peyton Manning in March, allowed three other players to leave in free agency, watched longtime right tackle Ryan Diem retire and then made a series of cost-cutting moves - leaving Indy looking nothing like the team that won a record 115 regular-season games in the past decade - team owner Jim Irsay urged fans to be patient as the Colts rebuilt.

To the delight of everyone, including Irsay, veterans, rookies and coaches all refused to heed the advice. Instead, they've grown up.

``To have this many (rookies) in major roles I think is incredible,'' said interim coach and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, a 20-year assistant in the NFL. ``It's a testament to (general manager) Ryan (Grigson) and the scouting staff for getting the right guys, and the coaches for picking the right guys. It's a credit to those guys for being in tune. The veterans have taken those young guys and have shown them how to do it in the locker room, on the field and off the field.''

Luck, of course, generates the most attention because he was billed as the NFL's next big thing since 2010 and was the No. 1 overall draft pick in April. He's on pace for a record-setting season and has already won one more game - and one more road game - than Manning did as a rookie in 1998.

But he's certainly gotten plenty of help from his rookie class.

Second-round pick Coby Fleener has 21 receptions for 222 yards and is becoming a better blocker. Third-round pick Dwayne Allen caught four passes for 56 yards in Sunday's latest victory at Tennessee, and has emerged as a key outlet for Luck over the middle. The Colts' other third-round pick, T.Y. Hilton, had 113 yards receiving in a Week 2 win over Minnesota and hauled in five passes Sunday against the Titans.

And then there is Sunday's rock star, fifth-round pick Vick Ballard, who caught a screen pass from Luck, turned up the left sideline and made a twisting, 4 1/2-yard Olympic dive into the end zone to give the Colts their first road win since Dec. 26, 2010 - 19-13 in overtime.

It's not the first time the Mississippi State alum tried the move.

He fumbled at the goal line against Arkansas during his junior season and failed to get across the goal line last year against Auburn. This time, without actually knowing it, he made the play of the day.

``I wasn't sure, so I just hopped up and threw my hands up,'' he said, drawing laughter over his veteran move.

Things haven't gone perfectly for the Colts' newcomers.

Luck has thrown the same number of touchdowns as interceptions (eight), and Allen nearly lost a fumble at the Indy 28 with 18 seconds left in regulation Sunday - a play that might have cost them the Colts had it not been blown dead. On Monday, Arians called on Allen to be more careful protecting the ball in that kind of situation.

But overall, the early reviews show this has been Indy's most productive rookie crop in years.

It was all part of the design to surround Luck with some young teammates who could get in sync with him quickly, plus a few cagey veterans such as receiver Reggie Wayne and center Samson Satele. The Colts have a roster full of players eager to win.

``They've been thrown into the fire early and they've responded tremendously,'' seven-time Pro Bowler Dwight Freeney said. ``Their performance has been continuous from college to the workouts to here, and they can only get better.''

That's what the Colts expect now.

``There's so many guys that have a ceiling that's way up there,'' Arians said. ``As long as they keep striving to get better, there's no telling how good this class could be.''

NOTES: On Monday, head coach Chuck Pagano made his first trip to the team facility since being diagnosed with a form of leukemia on Sept. 26. Arians said Pagano listened to the assistants during a staff meeting and was sent home when he became fatigued. Pagano was not expected to be back at team headquarters this soon. ... Arians said the team was still awaiting results of tests on Fleener's injured left shoulder, which kept him out of the game for most of the third quarter. ... Cornerback Vontae Davis had an MRI on his left knee, but Arians didn't have those results, either. Davis left 3 minutes into the game and did not return. ... The Colts are hoping to get outside linebacker Robert Mathis and defensive end Fili Moala back this week. Both have missed three straight games with knee injuries.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

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.

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

2018 NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

ROSTERS

TEAM LEBRON:

Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets

TEAM STEPHEN:

Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.

RELATED: JOHN WALL GIVES UPDATE ON HIS REHAB

Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS