Nationals

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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Nationals Scene and Heard: Crowd noise makes its way into the stadium

Nationals Scene and Heard: Crowd noise makes its way into the stadium

WASHINGTON -- Suddenly on Thursday, the speakers were alive in Nationals Park.

Out came the voice of public address announcer Jerome Hruska, who was in the stadium. The scoreboard lit up. The light boards around the park were active. By 8 p.m., the stadium lights were on, a benign breeze floated through the park and the intrasquad game was scoreless in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Starlin Castro singled up the middle off James Borque to excite the “crowd.” A cheer came through the speakers when the ball landed in center field. There were also cheers when a player struck out. Such is the nature of intrasquad play.

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So, the park went from echoing silence for almost two weeks to jazzed up three days before the exhibition opener. It was an improvement.

“If anything, it gets you zoned in a little more,” Erick Fedde said. “Crowd noise is something I feel like most are pretty good at zoning out. I didn’t really think about it to be honest. But it was nice to kind of feel like we had a little bit better atmosphere today.”

Major League Baseball went a similar route to the Premier League in order to combat empty stadiums. Sky Sports worked with EA Sports’ FIFA division to create simulated chants and crowd noises designed for specific teams. Here, MLB drew from audio created for the video game MLB The Show.

The video board usage was a distinct improvement from prior days when it only carried a doomsday-looking clock since workouts began July 3. Wednesday, it was filled with normal graphics -- including new ones mentioning who won the 2019 World Series -- throughout the intrasquad game.

“They noticed it,” Davey Martinez said of the players. “With not having like a regular crowd, obviously the echo out in the field, it’s different. We had to click it down a little bit to get it where we thought it was more ‘real’. But they liked it. They liked the noise. They like the music -- they like to dance -- so it was good. We got a great reaction from them, liked it, we’re going to incorporate it this season. We’re going to work out the bugs. It’s definitely a lot better to hear that than listen [to] yourself screaming or hear everyone talking.”

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It’s a work in progress. Wednesday night, Wilmer Difo popped up behind home plate into the stands and a large cheer went up. It was the kind of noise even the most overzealous fan base would not produce.

The noise as a whole was turned down in the final innings, per the players’ request. Martinez thought they found the proper spot for the volume by the end of the night.

“I want to make this last week or so as close as we can to real games,” Martinez said.

-- Stephen Strasburg started for one side. He struck out four consecutive batters after Trea Turner doubled to start the intrasquad game. Not surprisingly, Martinez said he thought Strasburg looked good. He’s in line to face James Paxton in the second game of the season when the New York Yankees come to Nationals Park.

-- Starlin Castro has been piling up at-bats and swings since joining camp July 9. He started late, so he is trying to catch up. He’s also crucial -- remaining likely to hit third during the season -- so the Nationals want to be sure he’s not doing too much.

“It’s a fine line,” Martinez said. “He’s been taking a lot of swings in the cage. Hitting, hitting off the velo machine. I’m not overly concerned with Starlin. He’s just a pure hitter. He’s a good hitter. ...he’ll be fine.”

-- Carter Kieboom made a nice sliding defensive play to his left and was able to get up and throw to first for the out. He also turned a 5-3 double play when fielding a grounder, hearing yells to step on the bag, slightly changing direction to find it, then throwing to first. His education at third base is happening in real-time.

-- Martinez positively mentioned Jake Irvin throwing 95-97 mph on Wednesday when he pitched the bottom of the fifth inning. Irvin, 23, pitched for Single-A Hagerstown last season.

“It’s so funny to watch these young kids come up,” Martinez said. “He walked off the mound and had those big ‘ol eyeballs sticking out. I can remember those days when I was a kid coming out and playing those games.”

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Nationals have perfect response to Twitter's verified shutdown

Nationals have perfect response to Twitter's verified shutdown

On Wednesday, Twitter experienced a large number of hacks into numerous big name, verified accounts. As the social media platform worked to control the problem, it limited the tweeting capabilities for all verified accounts.

Essentially, that means anyone with a blue checkmark is stuck in a social media purgatory where they couldn't share their thoughts. That includes the Washington Nationals team account. 

However, verified accounts still had the ability to retweet other tweets. The Nationals took advantage of this feature in the most perfect way possible, deciding to share some tweets from an account called "everyword" which tweets every word in the English dictionary. Yes, that account does perfectly sum up what Twitter is.

Washington used its retweeting ability to form an incredible sentence on the team's profile: "cant tweet but still champions."

The Nationals have mentioned their recent World Series Championship in almost every tweet since the final out on October 30, 2019, and rightfully so. The accomplishment was a big one, and until someone knocks them off, they have the right to let the world know they are the champions. Twitter may have been in a shutdown, but that wasn't going to stop them.

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Soon after, tweeting rights were once again granted, and Washington wasted no time getting back to their Twitter grind.

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