Nationals

49ers lean on Gore's smarts, savvy in key times

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49ers lean on Gore's smarts, savvy in key times

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman wants to be a head coach one day soon, and he already knows at least one person he'd hire on his staff.

Running back Frank Gore.

``I always tell Frank, `Man, when you're done playing, come find me or I'll find you,''' Roman said Thursday. ``Because he's a guy I love working with as a player, and I'm sure I'd love working with as a coach.''

Often underappreciated and overlooked around the NFL, Gore has carried the 49ers through good times and mostly bad the last eight seasons. Coaches are quick to credit the reliable running back's smarts and savvy, doing everything from breaking down film of opponents to scouting potential draft picks.

Gore's latest adaptation has come in the new read-option run game anchored by quarterback Colin Kaepernick that some thought might not suit his style. Instead, Gore surpassed 100 yards rushing in a playoff game for the first time in last week's 45-31 win over Green Bay, and the 49ers insist his knowledge is a vital part of the plan heading into Sunday's NFC championship at Atlanta.

``It's top shelf,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Gore's football acumen. ``Not to categorize it, but I know I have learned a lot from Frank, as well as the other running backs on our team. He sees it. He sees the big picture. He sees the whole picture. He sees it slowed down and he's got a very quick mind. He's able to make quick-minded decisions.''

Despite tearing ligaments in both knees at the University of Miami, Gore has rebounded to become one of the NFL's most durable players at a position that takes perhaps the biggest pounding.

Gore is the franchise leader in yards rushing (8,839) and touchdowns rushing (51) and has been a staple of San Francisco's offense under three different head coaches. His versatility is what makes him special, coaches said, running inside and out and catching passes from all kinds of formations.

``Frank is such an adaptable player that it doesn't take him long to pick something up,'' Roman said. ``He's one of the most gifted, knowledgeable, intelligent football players that I've been around really at any position. He just has a feel and an understanding for the game. It's funny, when you install something or put something new in, he can just see it. It's pretty impressive.''

Until last week, though, Gore's role had seemingly diminished since Kaepernick took over in Week 10 and the 49ers ran more of the Pistol offense.

Gore admits the first time he watched teams such as Oregon and Nevada run read-option plays on television he ``felt like that's not real football.'' With Kaepernick and the 49ers one win from the Super Bowl now, he's become a believer.

``It's helping us. If it's helping us get to where we want to go, I'm with it,'' Gore said. ``I feel like I'm a football player. I'm a ball player. I'll adjust to anything. I just had to be more patient getting the ball. That's about it.''

The 49ers also have kept Gore fresher as opposed to years past when he often wore down late from countless carries.

He split time with Kendall Hunter before the backup suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a Week 12 win at New Orleans. Speedster LaMichael James, the former Oregon standout, has limited Gore's touches since Hunter's injury and had an increasingly expanded role in the Pistol offense.

San Francisco's strategy showed results when it mattered. Gore ran for 119 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against the Packers, even while Kaepernick set a quarterback playoff record with 181 yards on 16 carries.

``Hopefully, they keep looking out for him and 21 keeps getting the ball and I'll just do what he did last week,'' Gore said, referring to his jersey number.

Where Gore goes after his playing days are over is uncertain.

All of 29 years old, Gore doesn't think those days are happening anytime soon. After enduring six non-winning seasons to start his 49ers career, the last two under Harbaugh's guidance have rejuvenated the running back's career.

More than anything, Gore wants to avoid the kind of heartbreak that came with last January's 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. That doesn't mean he might not still have one eye on the future, often lending his instincts to coaches and even offering his opinion on players before the draft to 49ers general manager Trent Baalke.

``I think I'd be a great coach. For one, I love the game of football. I've been around the game all my life, since I was 4. I could tell who is a real football player. I've got an eye for talent,'' Gore said. ``I love being around football. So if Coach Roman ever gets a head job and he wants to hire me, I'll be ready.''

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

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Nationals walked off again, this time by Cardinals' Paul DeJong

ST. LOUIS -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez was awake most of the night after Washington lost on a walk-off grand slam Sunday.

He likely won't be catching up on that missed sleep Monday.

Paul DeJong handed the Nationals their second straight walk-off loss, capping a back-and-forth finish with a game-ending solo homer in the ninth inning of the St. Cardinals' 7-6 victory Monday night.

DeJong took Koda Glover (0-1) deep leading off the ninth on a 3-1 pitch. A night earlier, Ryan Madson allowed a game-ending ninth-inning grand slam to the Chicago Cubs' David Bote in a 4-3 defeat.

"I don't sleep most nights, I like to watch replays of the game," Martinez said. "And last night was no different."

Washington's bullpen has blown saves in three of its past four games. All-Star closer Sean Doolittle has been on the disabled list since early July, and top setup man Kelvin Herrera went to the DL with right rotator cuff impingement last week.

"I don't know what else to do," Martinez said of the bullpen.

The usually stoic DeJong wasn't quite sure how to celebrate his first career walk-off homer. He started calm, keeping his head down as he rounded the bases. After coming around third, though, he whipped his helmet into the grass, threw his arms down and bellowed out a roar.

"My first walkoff, it felt so good I had to do something a little different," DeJong said.

The Cardinals recorded their 10th walkoff of the season and DeJong became the sixth different player to end a game in grand fashion.

"They're all special, all emotional," St. Louis interim manager Mike Shildt said. "These guys have the mentality, `Do your job, keep the line moving.' They have a lot of trust with each other."

The Cardinals have won six in a row and moved to nine games over .500 for the first time this season.

DeJong's 380-foot drive ended a wild final two innings.

Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyorko homered in the eighth inning to put St. Louis up 6-4. Gyorko started the rally with a leadoff drive, and Carpenter followed with a three-run homer off Sammy Solis.

The Nationals tied it at 6 in the top of the ninth on RBI singles by Daniel Murphy and Matt Wieters off closer Bud Norris. Dakota Hudson (3-0) relieved Norris and stranded two baserunners by retiring Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton.

Juan Soto and Bryce Harper homered for the Nationals, who have lost five of seven.

Gyorko sparked St. Louis' big eighth inning with his homer off Justin Miller. Kolten Wong and Patrick Wisdom then singled to set up Carpenter's 33rd homer. Carpenter has homered in seven of his past 10 games. He extended his major-league leading on-base streak to 31 games with a first-inning bunt single. He has 17 homers during that string.

Harper won a 10-pitch battle with starter Miles Mikolas by drilling his 29th homer leading off the fourth to lead 2-1.

Ryan Zimmerman added a run-scoring double in the second for the Nationals.

Jose Martinez had four hits for the Cardinals.

Mikolas gave up four runs on four hits over seven innings. He struck out four and walked one.

Tommy Milone started for Washington and gave up two runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings.

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Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden would like clarification on the new helmet rule

Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden would like clarification on the new helmet rule

RICHMOND—Here is what you need to know on Tuesday, August 14, two days before the Washington Redskins host the Jets in their second preseason game. 

Talking points

The NFL officiating crew of Carl Cheffers visited the Redskins facility over the past couple of days to give their annual rules update seminar to the players, coaches, and media. The big topic was, of course, the new rule that prohibits players from leading with their helmets when contacting another player. 

Here is the exact wording of the rule, per the video that was shown to the players, coaches, and media. 

The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are:

  • Lowering the head (not to include bracing for contact)
  • Initiating contact with the helmet to any part of an opponent. Contact does not have to be to an opponent’s head or neck area — lowering the head and initiating contact to an opponent’s torso, hips, and lower body, is also a foul.
  • Making contact on an opponent (both offense and defense)

Prohibiting players from leading with their helmets in the interest of safety is an admirable goal. Jay Gruden said that he was in favor of it in theory, but he saw issues in the implementation.

"We are in constant dialogue, we have the video, we’ve seen multiple videos and we understand what they’re trying to do, and we respect that,” said Gruden. “We will try to play to the rules, but there still are some gray areas there that I’m concerned about as a coach that can cost you football games and can cost players suspensions and all that. So hopefully those gray areas don’t come up and bite you.”

Gruden was asked to drill down on the “gray areas”. 

"I just think they are the 'bang-bang' type plays,” he said. “You know, the receiver goes up for a pass and the defensive back has a low target and then at the last second the receiver ducks his head; I mean is it targeting or not?”

Gruden said that he hoped that the officials would keep their flags in their pockets if there was any doubt. I asked Cheffers what they would do if it wasn’t clear if a violation had been committed. His response did not answer my question, but it did shed some light on the process that is going on during the preseason.  

“Certainly in preseason we do things differently than we do in the regular season,” he said. “I think what’s going to happen is that we’re going to build a library of plays—stuff that we call, stuff that we don’t call—we’re going to build a library to make a decision when the regular season comes to exactly what they want us to call and exactly what they want us to stay away from. At that point, we’re doing exactly as they direct.”

So, in other words, the enforcement of the rule is a work in progress. I suppose that’s the only way to do it since the rule is fewer than 50 words and the owners voted on it without any real input from the competition committee or anyone else. Some trial and error is called for. 

The problem is, the trial and error won’t end when the season starts. And, last time I checked, a loss due to a mistaken application of the rule would be just as costly in September as it would be in December.

Bureau of statistics

The Redskins were penalized for 733 yards last year; only one team, the Panthers, was penalized fewer yards. 

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The agenda

Today: Jay Gruden news conference 9:30; Practice with Jets 9:45; players available to the media after practice.

Upcoming: Preseason Jets @ Redskins (Aug. 16) 2 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 18 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 26 days

In case you missed it

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 and on Instagram @RichTandler