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Column: Fun times for NFL rookie quarterback crop

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Column: Fun times for NFL rookie quarterback crop

Andrew Luck's first working trip to New York didn't exactly go to plan, though some punishing defense by the Jets had a lot to do with that. All part of the learning curve for rookies, who sometimes have difficulty understanding that big second-half comebacks can't be pulled off every week in the NFL.

The leap from college was never going to be without some setbacks, even for a quarterback with Stanford smarts and a receiver like Reggie Wayne. In the Meadowlands on Sunday that wasn't nearly enough as Luck's rookie touchdown streak ended in a 35-9 romp by the Jets that showed the quarterback and the Indianapolis Colts are still a work in progress.

Dampening expectations in Indianapolis isn't such a bad idea because entire football teams can't be overhauled overnight. It was easy to forget in the wake of last week's thrilling comeback win over Green Bay that this was a team that was well on its way to a winless season last year before rallying to win two of its last three games.

Still, five games into his ascendant career, Luck has already shown that the Colts made the right - if extremely painful - decision to let Peyton Manning find work elsewhere. Barring injuries, Luck is going to be a very good quarterback for a very long time, which is not something that can be assumed for either of the top two quarterbacks for the Jets.

``I'm glad we play him this year and not two years from now,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ``He's got all the talent in the world.''

So does Robert Griffin III, who returned from a concussion Sunday to play for the Washington Redskins against the surprising Minnesota Vikings. Griffin might have learned a few things himself last week, especially about the career longevity of NFL quarterbacks who wait a half-second too long to go into a slide or get out of bounds.

Playing rookie quarterbacks isn't nearly as risky as it used to be. Rule changes have made the NFL more of a passing league, quarterbacks get more protection from officials, and the rookies themselves have been playing in passing leagues since they were in middle school.

Five of them lined up behind center Sunday, and four of them walked away winners. Luck had a rough day, throwing two interceptions and failing in his bid to become the first Colts rookie quarterback to throw touchdown passes in five straight games, but he was the only one to lose.

That included Griffin's impressive return against the Vikings, a week after suffering a mild concussion when he was hit while scrambling against Atlanta. Griffin might be the most fortunate of the five rookies because he landed on a team with a lot of talent, but he's winning with a team that has struggled mightily to win in recent years. And how many quarterbacks can claim a 76-yard touchdown run to seal a game, like Griffin did to finish off Minnesota?

Brandon Weeden wasn't too bad, either, bringing a sliver of hope to long suffering Cleveland fans who could be forgiven for losing hope. He's an old rookie, but not too old to celebrate his 29th birthday by leading the Browns to an upset win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the first win in 11 months for the hapless Browns.

Another quarterback drafted to save a franchise also delivered. Ryan Tannehill had a rookie moment with a backward pass that went out of bounds for a loss, but threw two touchdown passes and did just enough to make up for a miserable Miami running game in a win over the St. Louis Rams. Anyone who watched HBO's preseason training camp series ``Hard Knocks'' may have a hard time believing it, but the Dolphins are 3-3 and tied for the lead - albeit a four-way one - in the AFC East.

And would anyone expect Seattle rookie Russell Wilson to outplay Tom Brady in the fourth quarter in an upset win over New England?

The NFL has always been a young league, but the quarterback position keeps getting younger. Coaches once thought holding a quarterback out for a year to better learn the position was the only way to go, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one who thinks that way anymore.

To show how things have changed, it took 48 years for a quarterback to win The Associated Press offensive rookie of the year award when Ben Roethlisberger won it in 2004. Since then, four out of seven winners have been quarterbacks - a figure that will almost surely go up after this season.

Now, nearly a third of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL have less than two full years of experience, a startling statistic considering it is the most important position on the field.

Luck was the most celebrated of the group coming out of Stanford, and he still could end up being the best. But if you watched Griffin break off a long run when it was needed most or saw Wilson throw a 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:20 left to beat the Patriots, you know he's got competition.

That includes Tannehill, who wasn't as dramatic, but was remarkably mistake-free for a quarterback playing in his sixth NFL game.

``His growth from game to game has been critical and incredible,'' Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano said. ``He has a very bright future.''

The same could be said of the rest of the rookie crop, too.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org orhttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

During the last month, the average Redskin fan learned more about post-surgery infections than most football fans ever considered. 

The news surrounding Alex Smith's recovery from a broken leg has been upsetting, particularly that Smith has dealt with a serious infection and had to undergo multiple procedures to clean up the wound. Smith's situation was unique, he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, and the fracture wasn't clean

Still, alarming news emerged this week that Smith was not the only Redskins player to deal with post-surgery infection. 

Rookie Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason, ending his season and ruining a full offseason of momentum. Before he ever played a game, Guice became a fan favorite with his engaging enthusiasm. Then, he injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the year. 

For many players, surgery is tough, but then rehab begins. 

For Guice - like Smith - that wasn't the case.

After his knee surgery, Guice suffered an infection that lasted two months and required three additional procedures, The Washington Post reported. That required seven weeks of antibiotics which included significant use of IVs, swelling, flu-like symptoms and having his knee drained. 

The experience forced Guice to stay in Louisiana for months, closer to Dr. James Andrews office in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and away from his Redskins teammates in Ashburn. 

Now, finally, Guice is feeling better and expects to be all the way back for offseason work in 2019. That's great news for the Redskins.

Guice was considered to be the focal point of the Washington offense before the knee injury in the preseason, and he's a running back with immense potential. 

On some level, however, it's quite alarming that both Smith and Guice suffered infections after major injuries. 

Smith's injury was grotesque enough that there were immediate worries of infection. Even with the advanced concern, the infection still came. 

Guice's injury was severe, but not like Smith. And still, the infection came. 

It would take a forensic medical team to compare the situations and figure out if there is something the Redskins need to address. That won't happen on this page. 

At the same time, however, what were the odds back in training camp that the Redskins' then starting quarterback and running back would not only need surgery on their leg, but both would suffer from post-op infection? 

Like many things with the Redskins' 2018 season, there seem to be more questions than answers. The good news, Guice should be back for 2019. As of now, the same can't be said for Smith. 

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