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Column: Is Kaepernick worth the risk this year?

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Column: Is Kaepernick worth the risk this year?

It was just a few months ago - also known as forever in NFL time - that San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh stood in front of the media and proclaimed his love for Alex Smith.

After Sunday's debacle in St. Louis, Harbaugh might want to do it again.

That Colin Kaepernick is a fine young talent who may someday win a Super Bowl for the 49ers or some other team isn't up for debate. He has a rare combination of size, running ability and arm strength to win a lot of games for a lot of years in the NFL.

It's why Harbaugh was so star struck after Kaepernick's first start against the Bears on Monday night two weeks ago that he kept him on the job. It's why Smith watched from the sidelines once again against the Rams despite a clear head and some sterling credentials of his own.

Four games away from the playoffs, though, the steady hand of Smith might be the best ticket the 49ers can punch to get to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Except Harbaugh seems as smitten with his second-year quarterback as ever.

``It was a tough game for a quarterback to play in,'' Harbaugh said. ``I thought he did well.''

At times Kaepernick certainly did, particularly when he made up for a series of miscues with a spectacular 50-yard scramble that put the 49ers in position to win the game against the Rams. But the drive ended with a field goal, the game went to overtime, and the Rams finally ended it with a late kick for a 16-13 win.

Had the Rams not put those points on the board with 26 seconds left in OT something other than a quarterback controversy might be the legacy of the game. It could easily have been the second tie game between the two teams in three weeks - something that was such a long shot even Vegas oddsmakers wouldn't put a price on it.

Instead, the focus for 49er fans will be on a quarterback controversy that didn't need to be.

Argue all you want about Kaepernick's potential and ability - he certainly has plenty of both. But don't forget Smith took the 49ers to within a field goal of the Super Bowl last year and his only mistake this year was to suffer a concussion that forced him off the field in the tie against the Rams in San Francisco.

``I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion,'' a somewhat perplexed Smith said earlier in the week.

Not that anyone should feel sorry for Smith. The former No. 1 pick had his chances but didn't play well in a variety of different schemes in San Francisco before finally flourishing under Harbaugh in a breakout season last year.

That won him a new $33 million contract, with $16.5 million guaranteed. But it didn't stop the 49ers from almost straying a few months later when they took a close look at free agent Peyton Manning before deciding to stick with the quarterback they had.

And it didn't stop the coach/quarterback guru from sticking with Kaepernick even when Smith was cleared to play, declaring he would go with the quarterback with the ``hot hand.''

That hand wasn't so hot Sunday in St. Louis against a defense that seemed to confuse Kaepernick at times. His numbers were decent enough - 208 yards passing and another 84 rushing - but he got the 49ers into the end zone only once and made two critical second-half mistakes that allowed the Rams back in the game.

The first gave St. Louis its first points when Kaepernick was called for grounding while trying to scramble from the end zone. The second hurt far worse, when Kaepernick pitched the ball over Ted Ginn Jr. deep in 49ers territory and the Rams recovered for a tying touchdown.

``I was just trying to make a play instead of playing it safe,'' Kaepernick said. ``I should have kept it and let the clock run. Let your punter get on the field and let our defense play.''

Mistakes of a young quarterback, part of the growing process in the NFL. Kaepernick will make more of them, but his upside is so tantalizing to Harbaugh that he's willing to risk a loss here or there to have him under center.

But is he willing to risk a Super Bowl run for a team already primed for one behind Smith? Will he keep a quarterback on the sidelines who was fifth in the NFL with a passer rating of 104.1 and had a 70 percent completion percentage when he suffered the concussion that benched him?

Is he so confident in his ability to analyze the quarterback position that he will stubbornly push ahead with Kaepernick no matter what?

``I'll let you know if there's a change but right now I think it'll be the same as it was this week,'' Harbaugh said. ``I'm proud of Kap, proud of the way he played. He did some really good things under a lot of heat and duress and handled himself well, gave our team a chance to win.''

Tough to second guess Harbaugh, who took over a hapless 49er team last year and nearly made the Super Bowl with them. He understands talent and he knows the quarterback position better than anyone in the NFL after spending 14 seasons taking snaps on Sundays himself.

But you can't help wondering if he's taking a chance he doesn't need to take.

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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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10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

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USA Today Sports

10 Training Camp Questions: How dangerous is the Brandon Scherff contract situation?

The Redskins report to training camp on July 24th, and for the next 10 days, JP Finlay will count down the 10 biggest questions the Redskins face going into the 2019 season.

10) Will the Redskins develop depth on the D-line?

9) Can the Redskins count on Montae Nicholson?

8) Want better offense? Get more out of the tight ends 

7) Will Jimmy Moreland actually win the slot CB job from Fabian Moreau?

6) After losing Reuben Foster, how's the Redskins LB situation?

5) Will potential match production for Redskins WRs?

When a team picks in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, folks around the NFL expect that player to become a Pro Bowler. For Washington, that exact scenario unfolded with right guard Brandon Scherff. 

Mostly. 

Selected fifth overall in 2015, the Redskins took Scherff to play right tackle and anchor the offensive line opposite Trent Williams. That idea quickly faded, helped by the emergence of Morgan Moses, and Scherff moved inside to play guard. For four years, it's worked out great, with Pro Bowl selections in 2016 and 2017. 

Scherff is a mauler in the best sense of the word. He has great footwork and Redskins head coach Jay Gruden has called the former Iowa Hawkeye the best pulling guard in the NFL. Scherff is strong and nasty, words that won't win beauty pageants but absolutely win in the trenches of the NFL. 

Considering all of that, a contract extension for Scherff should be easy. Right?

Wrong. 

Currently in the final year of his rookie deal, multiple reports stretching over the last six weeks indicate that the organization is way off in their extension offers to Scherff. He might not command the biggest contract in the league, but he will get paid like a top three guard. In 2019, that means a lot of money.

Cowboys guard Zach Martin makes $14 million a year. Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell makes $13.3 million a year. Scherff might not get to Martin's salary, but he will probably get to Norwell, whether Washington pays it or not.

That means the Redskins need to pony up the cash now because as each day passes, the team is approaching an ugly set of options. Scherff and his representatives might continue to negotiate during the season, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. Once free agency becomes in view, players tend to wait for it. Just ask Kirk Cousins. 

In fact, the situation between Scherff and the Redskins has some resemblance to the Cousins saga from a few years ago. 

In that case, Washington low-balled their homegrown quarterback in their first set of negotiations. From there, things went sideways, and the team used consecutive franchise tags on Cousins before he finally left via free agency. 

If the Redskins can't get a deal done with Scherff, the team could use a franchise tag in 2020. But that's a dangerous game of roulette. 

The time to get a deal done with Scherff is now, if not last month. Redskins team president has said in the past that deadlines drive deals, but with Scherff, there is no exact deadline. He can decide to stop working on a contract extension at any moment, particularly once the pads come on at training camp. 

The Trent Williams holdout might be complicating things a bit, if Williams only wants more cash and the issue isn't about much more than that. The truth is a Scherff extension would actually free up cap space in the short term, as his signing bonus would be spread out over the life of the contract, and some of that salary cap relief could go to Williams right away. 

Williams' status isn't the hold up between Scherff and the Redskins. Whatever is the actual holdup best be resolved soon. or the Redskins are beginning down an all too familiar franchise path.

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The 10 best dog parks in the Washington D.C. area

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AP Images

The 10 best dog parks in the Washington D.C. area

During one of the hottest summers on record, getting the dog out to exercise amid the 100-degree heat has become a daunting task. The sidewalks burn their oh-so-adorable paws and canines living in the big city don't have ample space to expend their energy. 

Fortunately, the D.C. area offers several dog park options for pups to run around, play fetch and cool down with a splash while their owners unwind in a nice shady spot. For anyone looking to switch things up from the everyday walk around the neighborhood, these locations are worth taking a look at. 

10 best dog parks in the D.C. area 

1. Swampoodle Dog Park

3rd and L St NE

Less than a year old, this dog park has become a fun location for both dogs and children. The park is entirely turf so dogs don't get dirty or muddy, and there's a multiple-level jungle gym for kids to swing around on. For a family with young kids and dogs, this park has something for everyone. 

2. Bundy Dog Park

470 P St NW

One of the biggest parks on this entire list, this is the spot for those high-energy dogs that could run all day. It provides plastic bags for easy doggy doo-doo cleanup, but there are no water fountains so make sure to bring your own. 

3. Shaw Dog Park

1651 11th St NW

Like Bundy Dog Park, this location is one of the biggest in the D.C. area. Double gated entry keeps the dogs from running off, and the availability of bags and water bowls keep the area healthy and clean. It's got lights installed for an evening excursion, and there's a separate area designed for smaller dogs. 

4. Shirlington Dog Park 

2710 S Oakland St

Although a little far for D.C. residents, this park is worth the trip. It spans the length of several football fields, has a puppy specific enclosure plus poop bags and water bowls to make sure everything is clean. For those extra hot days, there's a stream for dogs to play in and even a washing station adjacent to the park. It doesn't hurt there's a dog-friendly brewery next door either. 

5. Newark Street Dog Park

39th St NW and Newark St NW

One of the highest-rated parks on Yelp, it has separate play areas for large and small dogs complete with water fountains and bowls. It also features a Children's Garden with monthly learning sessions, picnic tables, and children’s garden equipment.

6. Glencarlyn Park

301 South Harrison St

This is a peaceful haven for dogs and owners who want to get back in touch with nature. There's a stream and waterfall for dogs to douse themselves on hot days, and a small playground for kids to enjoy as well.  The park is unenclosed, however, so this isn't the best spot for dogs who don't obey voice commands well.

7. Lincoln Park

East Capitol and 11th St

Smack-dab in the middle of Washington, D.C., Lincoln Park is ideal for city residents who want to branch out from their usual walk around the block. There are two playgrounds for children and a mile-long circle dirt path for those owners who love to run with their dogs. 

8. Langdon Dog Park

2901 20th Street NE

One of the newer parks on this list, the word is still spreading about Langdon Park. It's spacious and fenced-in, giving dogs ample space to run around and there's a separate area for the especially little balls of fur.  

9. S. Street Dog Park

S St at 17th St NW Washington

Another AstroTurf option for minimal mess, this park even offers wading pools for dogs in the summertime. It can get fairly busy during the evening hours, but it's a great place for dogs to play while owners find a spot on one of the many benches. 

10. Montrose Park

R St and 32 St NW

Although not strictly a dog park, this is still a great location to take your pup. It's recommended to keep dogs on-leash here as it's got tennis courts, a children's play place and picnic areas bustling with people. Traditionally a best-kept secret of D.C. residents, this is the perfect space to escape the sights and sounds of the city. 

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