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Browns GM hopes to return next season

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Browns GM hopes to return next season

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Tom Heckert has rebuilt the Browns, infusing them with talent and adding depth to a roster with none.

And now, just as the young team he's put together is reaching its potential and still in the AFC playoff hunt, Heckert could be down to his final weeks as Cleveland's general manager.

By season's end, Heckert may be replaced by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, who are likely to overhaul Cleveland's front office and coaching staff.

``You know, it's going to be disappointing,'' Heckert said Friday when asked about the prospect of not returning. ``But I do get it. It's just one of those things. There's a variety of reasons why that could happen, but I'm OK with that. I don't know how else to react. If it doesn't work out, I can't just sit around and pout about it, I've got to go try to do it somewhere else.

``We'll see what happens.''

These are days of uncertainty for the Browns (5-8), who take a three-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup with the Washington Redskins. Heckert's future is in doubt as is that of second-year coach Pat Shurmur, who can bolster his chances to stay by winning out.

Haslam and Banner won't make any decisions until after the finale at Pittsburgh, and Heckert knows there's a chance they may go in a different direction.

If that's the case, team captains - Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson - said the Browns would be making a big mistake in letting Heckert go.

``It would be really upsetting,'' Thomas said. ``You just look at the track record he had in Philadelphia and he's been such a big part of this upswing that we're on now with all the young talent on this roster. It would be a shame if we let him go anywhere else.''

Said Jackson, ``I'll be the first guy in line to support Tom to stay here with the Browns.''

Heckert doesn't know what's ahead. He expects to have an answer about his future ``right away'' after the season. He doesn't know if Haslam and Banner have already made up their minds.

It's possible that Heckert, who spent four seasons as the Eagles GM, could stay on if he relinquishes some power. He said having control of the 53-man roster is essential, but that it wouldn't necessarily be a deal breaker.

``I'm not going to lie. It's important,'' he said. ``It's why I came here. I'm not saying it's an end-all, but it's very important to me.''

Heckert has ``final say'' authority written into his current contract. It allows him to draft, chase free agents and work with the coach on training camp decisions without intervention. However, Heckert pointed out that most decisions are a collaborative.

``In my 24 years or whatever it's been, I've never had one issue on cutdown,'' Heckert said. ``Now, who has the say on the draft and all the other stuff, it's written in my contract. For me, it's who picks the players and who makes the trades, all of that stuff. That's the stuff that I think is important.''

Banner is restructuring the Browns so that everyone in the front office reports to him. He spent 19 years with Philadelphia, where he worked with Heckert, who said the two still get along.

``It's been great. We talk about whatever,'' he said. ``No matter what happens, Joe and I are fine.''

Heckert said he honestly doesn't have a sense about his future, and he believes waiting is best for everyone involved.

``It's the right thing to do,'' he said ``I can handle two weeks.''

Asked if the Browns should keep him and Shurmur, Heckert nearly came out of his chair with his response.

``YES!!!'' he said, laughing.

Heckert seems at ease despite the unrest around him.

Since joining the Browns in 2010 - he was the first person hired by former team president Mike Holmgren - Heckert has transformed Cleveland's roster through the draft and a few key free-agent signings. This year alone, he selected running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz - who have each started all 13 games - in the first three rounds.

In July's supplemental draft, he gambled and picked wide receiver Josh Gordon, who had been kicked off the team at Baylor for marijuana use and sat out a season in Utah. After a slow start, Gordon has developed into Cleveland's top playmaker with 18 catches in his past three games.

The Browns have turned their season around, and Thomas believes Heckert deserves the credit.

``You can't point to anything he's really done wrong as far as all the moves he's made,'' Thomas said. ``Bringing in talent, building through the draft, everybody he has drafted is a solid contributor and then you find your diamonds in the rough in rounds 4-7, and he's done that. He's really turned this roster over.''

Heckert has been touched by the support he's gotten from Browns fans, some of whom have begun a campaign to keep him. The uncertainty has been hard on his scouting staff and family, including his parents, who fly in from Florida for every home game. Heckert's father, Tom, spent five seasons as a scout for the Browns in the `80s.

Cleveland seems on the cusp of a long, successful run.

Heckert started it, and he wants to finish it.

``Of course,'' he said. ``I really enjoy the city and I really enjoy this team, so that would be the ideal situation.''

NOTES: Speaking for the first time since he was hospitalized, guard Jason Pinkston feels grateful to be alive following a health scare that ended his season. Pinkston was hospitalized in October following a game against Cincinnati with blood clots in his lungs. He said doctors told him if he had taken a hit in the game that ``I could've probably died then so I'm all happy about it that I'm still here.'' He has been working out and plans to play next season. .... For the second week, the Browns did not have any players listed as ``out,'' ``doubtful,'' or ``questionable'' on their injury report.

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Need to Know: Redskins stock watch—Three up, three down

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, June 22, 34 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins stock watch: Three up, three down

For some Redskins players, the outlook looks much brighter now than it did when last season ended. Others have seen their stocks decline. Here is a look at three players in each category.

Stock up

CB Quinton Dunbar—His rise started the day after the season ended when he signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It continued when the departures of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland opened up more opportunity at his position. Then the only additions at corner were veteran Orlando Scandrick and seventh-round pick Greg Stroman. Dunbar has a clear path to a starting job, perhaps for the next few years. 

G Shawn Lauvao—At the end of the season, he was coming off of injured reserve. It was the second time in his four seasons in Washington that he finished the season on the sideline. He turned 30 last year and as the prime weeks of free agency passed, he didn’t get much attention. His fortunes started to turn when the team didn’t sign or draft a guard. Then on May 4 when he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Washington. Shortly after that Arie Kouandjio, his primary competition at left guard, was lost for the season with a quad injury. While there is no guarantee that the Redskins won’t look at other options at left guard, for right now it’s Lauvao’s job to lose. 

S Montae Nicholson—It was hard to make much out of his rookie 2017 season as he spent half of it on the sideline with injuries. But early in the offseason, Jay Gruden said that Nicholson was as important to the defense as Jordan Reed is to the offense. Given that Reed has made one Pro Bowl on his resume and could get more if he stays healthy and that his presence on the field tends to lift his teammates, that’s high praise. It means that Nicholson is at the top of the depth chart in Sharpie. He still needs to stay healthy, but he is not a player who is at risk of losing his job due to an injury. 

Stock down

RB Rob Kelley—This one of pretty obvious. He finished the year on injured reserve and a couple of the running backs signed as injury replacements, Kapri Bibbs and Byron Marshall, looked pretty good. Then came the draft and Derrius Guice as the second-round pick. Right now, he looks like the No. 4 back and he will have to fight hard to keep a roster spot. 

DL Ziggy Hood—Most expected the Redskins to draft a nose tackle early and that’s what happened when they took Daron Payne in the first round. That didn’t hurt Hood’s stock much. But they followed up by taking Tim Settle later in the draft and that made the depth chart very crowded. Hood is the seventh D-lineman and they usually only keep six. Even if he makes it he could spend a lot of time on the game-day inactive list. 

S Deshazor Everett—Nobody expected the Redskins to draft a safety, but they found the speed and athleticism of Troy Apke too attractive to turn down in the fourth round of the draft. The rookie needs some work on his game, so it appears that Everett, who started eight games last year, will be the first safety off of the bench early in the season. But it’s likely that they will want to get Apke in games as soon as he’s ready and that could leave Everett on the bench. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey was born on this date in 1978. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 34
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 48
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 71

The Redskins last played a game 173 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 79 days. 

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