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Browns LB Fujita still pondering retirement

Browns LB Fujita still pondering retirement

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Scott Fujita hopes his last appearance on an NFL playing field won't be this Sunday for the Cleveland Browns.

He would prefer to make another game-saving tackle, clutch interception or crowd-inspiring sack - instead of merely being part of the pregame coin toss.

Fujita is on the injured reserve list, out for the season with a neck injury. An MRI revealed nerve and disk damage that could also end the linebacker's career.

When told by captains D'Qwell Jackson and Phil Dawson that he would be an honorary captain against the San Diego Chargers this week, Fujita finally faced stark reality: ``That's when it hit me, this is the end of the season for me,'' he said Friday. ``It was quite emotional.''

Calling it a career would be even tougher.

``It's still early in the process for that,'' Fujita, 33, said. ``I just want to get healthy and then it will be some private conversations between me and my wife and our doctors.''

If Fujita can't convince himself it is time to quit, perhaps the discussions with wife Jaclyn will do it.

``She's concerned,'' he said. ``The day I went to get the MRI, I almost didn't want to tell her.''

Fujita had neck surgery in 1999 and said Friday he was grateful to play another 13 years ``relatively pain free.''

Now, he doesn't want to risk another operation. And much as it will pain him to leave his teammates and the game he loves, Fujita is smart enough to know that one more ill-placed hit could haunt him the rest of his life.

``I've got to be honest, when I had the neck surgery in college I assumed there were going to be problems in my future anyway, it's just the reality of what we do,'' he said. ``So I'd like to not make those problems any worse.''

Fujita last played Oct. 7 against the New York Giants.

``I had a number of stingers in that game,'' he said. ``Those issues didn't subside over the next few days.''

It has been a trying year for Fujita, one of four players suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. He had his penalty reduced from three games to one, but isn't sure he wants to continue that battle.

``That couldn't be further from my mind right now,'' Fujita said. ``I fought that fight. I felt like I came out on the good side of it. They admitted publicly I had nothing to do with any of that. I feel good about that. Now it's just a matter of whether I want to fight this silly redetermination that I didn't stand up to my coach.

``At this point I don't give it that much thought.''

He does intend to serve out his two-year term on the executive committee of players' association, and despite a master's degree in education, is uncertain of his future away from football.

``Maybe I'll go coach girls soccer,'' Fujita quipped. ``If this is the end for me, then I'll have plenty of options. I've always had the itch to go back and teach.''

Fujita said he never thought about coaching football until this summer, when he enjoyed working with Cleveland's young linebacking corps. He said he would be open to talking with the Browns about a possible role in the organization, which he says is on the upswing with younger and more talented players.

``The day-to-day operation is much more functional,'' Fujita said. ``The wins aren't there yet. That's a problem. But I feel good about the guys in my room. Our young linebackers. They are going to be great players, every single one of them. The table has been set and I think at all position groups, getting stronger and stronger.''

Fujita said he's frustrated at not being able to play, but thanked the team for insisting he get the MRI and putting his personal safety first.

``I love these guys,'' he said. ``It is better to walk away - if this is the end- and be sad than to be mad.''

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NOTES: Coach Pat Shurmur is hopeful RB Trent Richardson's bruised ribs are good enough for him to play Sunday. ``Today was his third good day of practice. He's better this Friday than he was last,'' Shurmur said. ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and DB Dmitri Patterson (ankle) did not practice. WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) was limited, though Shurmur said, ``He had a good week of practice.'' ... G Jason Pinkston, on IR with a blood clot in his lung, watched practice from the field. ... OL Ryan Miller and Jarrod Shaw returned to practice after sitting out with illnesses on Thursday. Both are among 16 Browns listed as probable against San Diego. ... New Browns CEO Joe Banner remains in Boston, where his father, Ralph, passed away at age 89 Thursday night. ... Outgoing team president Mike Holmgren also watched practice, which was moved indoors.

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Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Despite all the challenges of the early season, Reirden’s promotion still a ‘dream come true’

Since taking over as the head coach of the Washington Capitals, Todd Reirden has had to deal with Tom Wilson getting suspended, a number of injuries and a team-wide Stanley Cup hangover.

So how would he describe the start to his first season as an NHL coach?

“It’s obviously a dream come true,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview.

Reirden’s playing career came to an end in Europe in 2007, but his coaching career really began in 2004 while he was a player with the Houston Aeros of the AHL. Out with an injury, head coach Todd McLellan encouraged Reirden to take more of a coaching role with the team. It didn’t take long for Reirden to realize his real future in the game was as a coach and not as a player.

Reirden climbed the ranks as a coach from college, to the AHL and finally to the NHL. He spent the last eight seasons in the NHL behind the bench as an assistant and associate coach before finally getting the opportunity to become a head coach.

“Something when you start coaching just as I used to think about as a player, was the ultimate was to be able to play at the highest level,” Reirden said. “I was able to do that as a player and now able to see that dream come true as a coach. First things first is it's been amazing from that standpoint.”

The history of the NHL – and all professional sports for that matter – is full of assistant coaches who just could not make the transition from assistant to head coach. There is no doubt Reirden knows what he’s doing when it comes to the development of players and on-ice strategy. The last few years working with the Caps as an assistant and then associate coach have shown us that.

But being a head coach is about more than just what happens on the ice. That’s the part that first-year head coaches seem to struggle with initially.

“How everything works behind the scenes in terms of organizationally, dealing with the salary cap and sending down players, keeping them on board and the constant contact with Hershey,” Reirden said. “You spend a lot of time on those type of things. It's been a little bit of a transition too I would say with two new staff members in terms of how I'm delegating responsibility and empowering them in their particular areas. That's probably been the things that have been the most different for me.

“The hockey part, the coaching part, talking to the players in between periods, the media, that stuff has all gone really smoothly,” Reirden said. “No real transition there. But I'd say more the stuff behind the scenes is the stuff that's been a little bit different than expected.”

Reirden is certainly getting a crash course on roster construction given the recent spate of injuries and recalls. That has unquestionably affected the play of the team and is a major reason why the Caps have looked so inconsistent to start the season. It is not how Reirden would have scripted his first season to start.

But even with everything his first season has thrown at him and a 9-7-3 record, Reirden still feels like he is exactly where he wants to be.

“Every day is a chance for me to grow and get better and get used to responsibilities as a head coach,” Reirden said. “So it's been a lot of fun and definitely a challenge, but something I love and wouldn't trade places with anybody in the world for.”

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

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Three things to watch for Wizards vs. Blazers, as John Wall and Damian Lillard square off

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards take on Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland Trail Blazers. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Schedule heats up

The Wizards really needed that one on Friday night. Though the Nets, even without Caris LeVert, aren't an easy out, the Wizards wanted to fully take advantage of a soft spot of their schedule. It's tough to lose to the Nets when you consider the road ahead.

The Wizards play seven straight games against teams at .500 or better. That includes a road game against the Raptors, who are tied for the league's best record. They also see the Rockets, the Pelicans twice and play at the Sixers. It all begins Sunday against the Blazers, who are tied for the fourth-best record in the NBA.

Rematch

Most of the Wizards' games this season have been lopsided one way or the other, and usually in the direction they would not prefer. But they have played a few close games and their most entertaining one happened to come against this same Blazers team.

The Wizards and Blazers went to overtime on Oct. 22 in Portland. The Wizards forced the extra period thanks to a three by Bradley Beal, and they won thanks to Otto Porter Jr. blocking Damian Lillard's shot in the closing seconds. 

The Wizards and Blazers have played some classics in recent years. Markieff Morris beat them with a game-winning three two years ago and last season Beal dropped 50 at the Moda Center. The matchup between both teams' star guards seems to bring the best out in everyone.

Howard vs. Nurkic

Much of the focus in this matchup is always on John Wall and Beal vs. Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but there will be a lot of action in the paint with Dwight Howard going up against Jusuf Nurkic. The Blazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the game and Nurkic, who pulls in 10.7 per game, is a big reason why. Nurkic also averages 15.5 points.

Howard is coming off his best game as a Wizard. He had 25 points and 17 rebounds against the Nets on Friday night. He was hurt when the teams first met in Portland.

Both are bruisers around the rim who don't stretch the floor with outside shots. It should be a physical battle on Sunday night.