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Arkansas looking for answers to red zone woes

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Arkansas looking for answers to red zone woes

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Paul Petrino couldn't have been happier with Arkansas' offensive output against Texas A&M last week, at least on the surface.

The offensive coordinator watched as the Razorbacks gained 515 yards on 98 plays, putting together five drives of more than 50 yards - all coming against an Aggies' defense that entered the game allowing an average of 279.7 yards per game.

So, what was Petrino's problem with all that offense?

It came in a 58-10 loss, one in which Arkansas' season-long struggles at finishing drives was again on display. The Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) scored on just one of their five trips inside Texas A&M's 20, a first-half field goal, causing the former offensive powerhouse to fall to 109th nationally in red zone offense.

``We've just got to get the ball in the end zone,'' Petrino said. ``I've never lost a game in my life putting up that kind of yards and having 98 plays. To go and get your butt kicked, you should win if you have that many yards and that many plays.''

Arkansas, which is sixth in the SEC in total offense with 417 yards per game, has scored on just 12 of 19 drives in the red zone this season. It's the latest issue in a season full of disappointments for the Razorbacks, who travel this week to Auburn (1-3, 0-2).

The days of leading the SEC in passing offense, as Arkansas did in each of the previous three seasons, seem like a long time ago for a program reeling without the architect of its past success - former coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks led the conference in average points scored last season, but they've slipped to 11th (23.2 per game) this year.

The fall has been the result of a number of factors, and Petrino's less-than-graceful exit in April is only a small part of the reason.

Arkansas scored on 86.4 percent (51 of 59) red-zone opportunities last season, fourth in the SEC. That, however, came with three future NFL receivers (Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright) on offense, all who were drafted in the fourth round of April's draft.

The departures of three of the top receivers in school history has played a part in the Razorbacks' red zone struggles, as has their anemic running game - which is last in the SEC at 106.6 yards per game. An offensive line that's failed to consistently open running lanes has hurt, just as has a season-ending foot injury to starting fullback Kiero Small and most recently, a bone bruise that kept tight end Chris Gragg out against Texas A&M.

``That's been a big staple to what we've done in the past, to convert (in the red zone),'' Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. ``We take pride. When we sniff it out and when we smell it, to go get it and make a mark down there.

``... You all have to be in, and you've got to be on the same page. That's how you score when you're down there, and we haven't done that, haven't done it. Is it frustrating? Absolutely.''

Wilson, who was first-team All-SEC last season, hasn't been immune from his own struggles near the opponents' goal line. Against the Aggies, the senior was 0-for-9 passing in the red zone - putting a damper on his 373-yard effort and leaving interim coach John L. Smith searching for answers.

``It's not one thing, but we've just got to keep fighting,'' Smith said. ``We spent a lot of hours on the critical zone last week game planning. ... We've just got to go execute. We've got to get more points. That's the bottom line; that's my job. That's up to me to get more points when we get down there. We have to do it.''

Wilson had his coming-out party against Auburn two years ago, throwing for 332 yards and four touchdowns after replacing starter Ryan Mallett in the first half. The Tigers won 65-43 on their way to the national championship, but they've struggled this season - with their only win coming in overtime against Louisiana-Monroe.

Arkansas lost a week before that to the Warhawks, a game in which Wilson missed the second half with a concussion. Auburn's defense performed well in a 12-10 loss to No. 4 LSU two weeks ago, and coach Gene Chizik knows how critical it will be to stop Wilson.

``He's an impressive young man,'' Chizik said. ``One of the things I thought about him two years ago when he came into the game - I just thought that when you look at a quarterback and you say, `What are the intangibles of a quarterback that you look for at that position in a young man?' and that is the competitive nature of that guy, he's got it.''

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AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this report.

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

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Tim Connelly won’t take top Wizards job, to stay in Denver

There won’t be a Tim Connelly reunion with the Washington Wizards after all.

Connelly passed on the opportunity to become the Wizards President of Basketball Operations, and instead will remain in the same capacity with the Denver Nuggets, a source confirms to NBC Sports Washington. ESPN first reported on Connelly's decision.

Washington received permission to meet with Connelly late Thursday evening. He left the NBA Combine in Chicago and flew to Washington Friday for a discussion with Leonsis, a source told NBC Sports Washington. On Friday, Connelly reportedly received the offer to fill the front office vacancy created by the firing of Ernie Grunfeld on April 2.

While the interest in the Wizards was genuine from the Baltimore native, Catholic University alum and former member of Washington's front office, Connelly could not leave the "stable" situation with significant promise in Denver, a source told NBC Sports Washington.  

Connelly, 41, was named Denver’s general manager in 2013. The Nuggets won 54 games and finished the 2018-19 regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The roster, headlined by All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray, is the second-youngest in the NBA. "Tough to give that up," the source said. "Too much to risk."

The Wizards are coming off a polar opposite campaign that ended with a 32-50 record. Significant uncertainty exists going forward with five-time All-Star John Wall expected to miss a large chunk of the 2019-20 season as his four-year, $170 million supermax contract extension kicks in.

Leonsis began a deliberative search process for a new President of Basketball Operations after dismissing Grunfeld, who held the position for 16 years.  While other candidates were interviewed during the process, including interim GM Tommy Sheppard, Connelly’s name was linked to the opening almost from the start.

Connelly considered Leonsis' handling of the discussions first class, according to a source.

Sheppard, former Hawks GM Danny Ferry and Thunder assistant GM Troy Weaver are the other known primary candidates.

In April, NBC Sports Washington first reported Connelly considered the Wizards his “dream job,” according to sources. The Catholic University alum began his NBA career as an intern with Washington in 1996 before holding various full-time front office positions under Grunfeld. He left for New Orleans in 2010.

The Wizards face significant challenges before re-entering contention in the Eastern Conference. With Wall injured, two-time All-Star Bradley Beal is the only healthy returning starter. 2018 first round pick Troy Brown Jr. is the only other valued long-term asset beyond the ninth overall selection in the 2019 NBA Draft,

More than half of last season’s roster is entering some form of free agency. Washington could have limited salary cap space depending on which players return.

The situation requires the kind of roster-shaping creativity Connelly demonstrated in Denver. The Wizards now must look elsewhere for their new front office leader.

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Roster is set heading into start of OTAs

Kick off your Monday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news including the full 90-man roster heading into the beginning of OTAs.

Player/Team Notes: 

1. The Baltimore Ravens have officially announced the full 90-man roster that will be competing for an official team roster spot in OTAs this summer. Ravens OTAs begin Monday.

2. With the return of Pernell McPhee and the addition of Shane Ray, it's clear that the Ravens are searching for the right pass rushers for their defense. The two veterans join draft pick Jaylon Ferguson in the quest to create a dynamic defense.

3. Marquise Brown is expected to miss OTAs due to continued rehab on his foot from Lisfranc surgery. However, Brown is expected to be ready by the start of training camp in August.

Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Rotoworld and Baltimore Ravens for news points.

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