Julie Donaldson

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Redskins OC Scott Turner and his QBs making the best of their virtual offseason

Redskins OC Scott Turner and his QBs making the best of their virtual offseason

Sitting and waiting to play with your new toy is no fun. 

That essentially is what it’s like for Redskins offensive coordinator, Scott Turner. The coronavirus lockdown has the newly name OC forced to meet with his players virtually.

In a pandemic-free world, with a new head coach named, the Redskins would have had a two-week jump start on the rest of the league to meet players and install their system. Turner says despite not seeing his players on the field, they are making use of the time given to them. 

“We’re putting a lot of work in, obviously abiding by the rules the NFL has set forth — four days a week, two hours a day,” Turner said. 
Same as all the others. The Redskins QB’s choose to start at 1pm each day. The reason? Alex Smith is in Hawaii. No one seems to complain – and if anything, the others wish that they, too, were in paradise for workouts.

As for putting his new offensive system in place, Turner says he is breaking up by installs. 

“We have gotten through, I think, so far six at this point,” Turner said. “They are separated by play type and then we will do a situational install.”

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Turner said everyone’s brain works differently so the staff tries to group things together as best they can. It’s slightly different for the quarterbacks, 

“The big thing there is just every play, explain to the them what the objective is on that play, what we are trying to accomplish and what the philosophy is,” Turner said. “That’s something that’s are trying to express to those guys.”

Running those meetings are Turner and Ken Zampese, Washington’s quarterbacks coach. Then there’s Luke Del Rio, the son of Jack, the defensive coordinator. He’s only 25, but is quickly emerging in his new role as offensive quality control coach, organizing notes and coming up with useful information for the quarterbacks.

While head coach Ron Rivera continues to stress competition, he has named Dwayne Haskins Jr as their guy. Kyle Allen is the backup quarterback.

And then there is Smith.

The 13-year veteran missed all last season after suffering one of the most gruesome injuries in NFL history in Week 11 of the 2018 season. He participates in all the meetings, but we wait to see if he can miraculously return to the field. 

An ESPN E:60 documentary featured Smith’s rehab process, giving the world an inside view into the destruction of his leg and the power of his mindset to try to overcome it. Rivera has recently said Smith will have to be able to “protect himself” in order to compete at camp in August.

At the end of the 2019 season, Smith adamantly told reporters he planned to return to the game: “Without a doubt”. 

It would be nothing short of a miracle, and proof of modern-day medical practices, if that becomes a reality. Some say he’ll never play again, while others say it wouldn’t surprise them given Smith’s determination.

In the meantime, Smith continues to be a leader in the virtual meeting room offering as much input as he can. Setting the example for Haskins on how to prepare as an NFL quarterback. Haskins openly admits how smart Smith is and how willing he is to learn from him. Haskins also sees Turner as a young coach he can relate to.

It’s a new offense for Smith and Haskins to learn. Allen is more familiar, having played in it for two years in Carolina. But in the virtual classroom, Turner says all are equal. 

“We’re kind of throwing a lot at them,” Turner said. “In the beginning of every meeting, we do some quizzes, tests. Just test their retention.” 

All are quizzed at the same and all taking their own notes. Allen has said he is more than willing to help others learn the system when he can.

So how will we know the effectiveness of these virtual meetings and who has a firm grasp of the offense? From player to coach, I am told there is only one way — when live practice takes place. Until then, Turner and his quarterbacks will Zoom away.

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How Navy's Ken Niumatalolo is working from home during COVID-19

How Navy's Ken Niumatalolo is working from home during COVID-19

Ken Niumatalolo is the longest-tenured head coach in Navy history, and the winningest.

In his 12 seasons the Midshipmen have gone 98-60 with six bowl wins. They finished the 2019 season 11-2, good enough to place No. 20 in the Top 25 AP poll. It was only the second time in the programs' last 56 years they’ve done so. 

It was also an eight-game improvement from the year before. Pretty outstanding. In fact, it was the biggest turnaround in the country and tied for the second-biggest in FBS history.  That earned Niumatalolo the American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors for the third time in the last five seasons. Navy claimed the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy for the first time since 2015 by defeating both Air Force and Army.

Ok, you get the point. They had a good year, but talking football is far from Niumatalolo’s top priority right now.

“My main concern first and foremost has been for the safety and health of our players. And so the biggest thing early on when this first started to happen, just checking on our coaches and our staff,” Niumatalolo told NBC Sports Washington. “How's everybody? How's their family doing? You know, what kind of plan, situation do they have? Then each of our coaches reached out to our players. What’s their living situation? You know what’s their food situation? Are they okay? Just all those kinds of things, and so, once we figured that out, then we’re just trying to do a little bit of football so it helps people to keep sane … “

Once knowing all of his young men were taken care of, he could then start the next step of running a program from home - after watching Disney movies with his granddaughter, of course. Even if that draws gentle chiding from his daughter who notes that they COULD read some books, too. But spending extra time with his family has been a blessing. 

“I think it helps you to keep some sanity and we’ll give them some football, but it's not like we're trying to totally prepare for the first game," Niumatalolo said. "These are unprecedented times, so I think you got to find a way to keep things in perspective.”

Of course, the challenge for a football team lies in staying in shape, which is even more challenging depending on what equipment each player has at home. Some have a workout place, some have a few dumbbells … and then some are just doing bodyweight exercises. 

“We’re trying to do the best we can, trying to be creative, don’t fall into the lull of ‘Hey, I don't have anything so I can't do anything,’” Niumatalolo said. 

Translation, no excuses. Niumatalolo follows his own orders but he does so from his home town.

“In Hawaii, they're allowing you to go outside to run or jog, or if you go to the beach you got to be on the move,” Niumatalolo said. “You can’t be lounging. Or if you’re swimming, you have to keep your social distancing.” 

Albeit, his goals are slightly different than that of his players: “It definitely helps you keep your sanity and hopefully try to keep my weight down,” Niumatalolo said.

Now that is something we can all relate to!  

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What Joe Theismann remembers about late Dolphins coach Don Shula

What Joe Theismann remembers about late Dolphins coach Don Shula

Joe Theismann has more than a few stories to share about the late Don Shula, who passed away at his home this week.

Shula won two Super Bowls, but had it not been for Theismann and the Redskins in Super Bowl 17, there could have been a third. 

Washington defeated the Dolphins 27-17 with Theismann as their quarterback, but in Shula’s eyes, Theismann was on the wrong side of the field.

After all, Theismann was drafted by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 1971 draft, 99th overall. But the negotiations over his bonus, according to Theismann, stopped him from stepping on the field.

"I was surprised it was a fourth-round pick by the Miami Dolphins. Actually, it was their third pick in the draft because they had to give up their number one to Baltimore when Coach Shula left there to go to the Miami Dolphins and I went and tried to negotiate the contract myself," he remembered. "First mistake I made, business mistake, and [Joe] Robbie was the owner, Joe Thomas was their general manager. [Thomas] was having heart surgery so I negotiated with Mr. Robbie. I remember sitting in the office, sat down, he said 'what do you want the numbers?'"

Theismann put out $45,000 and $55,000 with a $35,000 signing bonus. 

To his surprise, Robbie agreed.

"I'm thinking, that isn’t the way this works. I’m reading all these books on negotiations and all of a sudden he gave me what I wanted," he remembered.

So Shula and the Dolphins, according to Theismann, thought the deal was done. But Theismann had also been drafted by the Toronto Argonauts.

The deal with the Dolphins got stuck with a back-and-forth on how the bonus would be paid out and eventually, Theismann said he was tired of the whole process and instead of joining Shula's team, ended up in Toronto.

That wasn’t the end of their story. After spending his first three years with the Argonauts, in 1974, the Redskins traded a first-round draft pick to the Dolphins for the rights of Theismann. Theismann puts it, the rest is history, but admits, playing for Shula would have been special. 

“I really would have loved to, I think, played for Coach Shula, he was kind of coach I could appreciate, he was tough, he was stern,” said Theismann. “Everybody I’ve talked to that has played for him, he was a tough coach to play for, but he did things the way he wanted to do it. People say the same thing about Bill Belichick today, he’s a tough coach, he has demands, he demands things of you, if you can't do em, you won't be there. I think Coach Shula was pretty much that way as well.”

The respect for each other was certainly there, but it took some time before there was any friendliness. 

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“He didn't like me for a number of years and then all of a sudden we play them in the Super Bowl and we beat him, which I’m sure he didn’t like me much more after that either.”

It was the last time they faced each other on the field, but their paths would cross again. “It was Super Bowl 19, when the Dolphins went out to play in Palo Alto California, the San Francisco 49ers. I happened to be in the broadcast booth with Don Meredith and Frank Gifford, he saw me again, and lost that Super Bowl.”

Theismann tells these stories fondly, because in the end, they were able to move past how it all started.

“As time went on Coach and I became friends and my heart goes out to his family," he said. “When you think of icons and legends and great people, great coaches, Coach Shula comes straight to the top of the list.” 

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