Nationals

Elway puts it on the line again in latest comeback

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Elway puts it on the line again in latest comeback

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) He could have stayed on the sideline. Instead, John Elway wanted back in the game.

The king of the comeback is directing his latest rally from the Denver Broncos executive offices. Just two years ago, the franchise was dissolving into irrelevance or, maybe even worse, a side show. But now, the Hall of Fame quarterback is turning the Broncos into winners again.

The centerpiece of the turnaround, of course, was the signing of Peyton Manning.

A decision that seemed, to some, like a risk when Elway made it is looking better with each game. And while ol' No. 7 refuses to look too far ahead, he does concede that, yes, things are going well - and that he knows he put his reputation on the line when signing a 36-year-old quarterback with a surgically repaired neck.

``By no means was it a slam dunk,'' Elway said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``But we knew after we did our homework and looked at the situation, it was the best thing for us. We were willing to take that risk. There's always risk to it, but we liked our chances.''

The Broncos carry a four-game winning streak into Sunday's game against San Diego. They are 6-3 and a win away from taking a three-game lead in the AFC West. Manning is on pace for a 4,800-yard, 37-touchdown season, though it's the strength of the supporting cast Elway helped put in place that made the quarterback-turned-executive feel good about going after a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the back end of his career.

One of Elway's most memorable quotes from the day the Broncos made it official with Manning was that he didn't have a ``Plan B'' if Manning got hurt or didn't return to his former effectiveness. The issue, the only issue, as Elway sees things, is to win Super Bowls, and the possibility of Manning at 100 percent could get the Broncos there quickest.

It's a focus that got drowned out in Denver over successive years of turmoil starting with the end of the Mike Shanahan era, continuing with the hiring of Josh McDaniels and concluding with Tim Tebow's tumultuous stint as Broncos quarterback.

``I think true Bronco fans understand what our goal is,'' said Elway, who spoke to AP while promoting the Dove Men+Care ``Journey to Comfort'' campaign. ``They've had a taste of what a Super Bowl is, back in `97 and `98. I think with where we are right now, the fan base is extremely excited because of what they see with Peyton. There were always high expectations when Mike was here. Those couple of years when it hit the bottom, it makes it that much more exciting now.''

When Elway retired after the 1999 Super Bowl, nobody would have held it against him had he left football forever.

But he didn't leave his passion for the game behind.

Yet as much as signing Manning - along with the corresponding move of jettisoning Tebow - the real risk the 52-year-old took was involving himself with the Broncos again at all.

After all, he was the man who could do no wrong in Denver, the man who simply couldn't be replaced - not by Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Tebow. The man who became the face of the city, suffered the Super Bowl heartbreaks, then won the titles, all the while directing dozens of dramatic, game-winning drives (40, to be precise, a record Manning now holds with 48) was putting his reputation back out on the line.

Elway had car dealerships and other business enterprises, even the Arena Football League team.

``But ultimately, this is what I wanted to do again,'' he said. ``I like the competitive side of it. The fact that you're graded, week in and week out. And that there's a big carrot at the end of the road if you do things right. That's the Super Bowl. The fact that I could do it in Denver made it even more special.''

So far, almost every high-profile move he has made since he arrived and assumed the title of executive vice president of football operations in January 2011 has improved the team.

-Choosing Von Miller with the second pick in the 2011 draft wasn't a huge risk, though with 10 sacks this season, Miller is, at the very least, living up to his billing.

-Willis McGahee, Brandon Stokley, Trindon Holliday - all have been brought in by Elway, who has also made significant progress in cleaning up Denver's bloated salary cap.

-Hiring John Fox, a coach with a 73-71 career record, was not considered a slam-dunk choice. Elway concedes he didn't know Fox that well.

``But you looked at this building when I got here and everyone was so demoralized,'' Elway said. ``One thing that stuck with me was John's positive attitude. He was outgoing, friendly, positive. To me, that was the No. 1 characteristic. He was someone who could get this organization rehabilitated, get everyone excited about playing football again.''

By setting aside conventional wisdom, Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy retooled their offense in 2011 and built a team that made the playoffs with Tebow at quarterback.

Now, with Manning, the coaching staff has re-created itself again. They are building around Manning, who has paid back the favor by becoming the NFL's top-rated quarterback through nine games.

``Everyone wants to look at the strength of his arm, but one thing they sometimes overlook is that he's tremendously accurate,'' Elway said. ``He throws a very catchable ball. The accuracy part is not given enough credit.''

Much has been made of the intrinsic quarterback-to-quarterback connection between Elway, the last quarterback to bring a Super Bowl to the Broncos, and Manning, who was brought to Denver to be the next one.

Elway says there were never any questions about Manning's work ethic and, at least from the Broncos perspective, the health issue was resolved.

``But there was, no question, a down side. It wasn't unanimous'' around the league, Elway said. ``I guess because I was the one sitting in the chair who had to openly make that decision, it was going to fall in my lap. I knew that. And I knew there were a lot of people out there who said `No way,' who have probably changed their mind by now.''

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3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

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USA TODAY

3 Up, 3 Down: Allow Juan Soto to distract you from Bryce Harper

Nationals fans are teetering on the edge. 

On one hand, the Nats are 3.5 games out of first place after a 10-week span full of injuries and underperformance. The team just acquired All-Star closer Kelvin Herrera, and their 19-year-old left fielder looks like an All-Star already. 

On the other hand, doom is imminent. The Monstars stole Bryce Harper's abilities at some point over the last three weeks, Steven Strasburg can't stay healthy, and the offense is pushing everyone's patience to the limit. 

So who's overperforming? Who's underperforming? Who's out there just trying their very best? LET'S LIST. 

Three Up

1. Juan Soto

Our large young son Juan continues to impress. He's now hitting .325/.411/.602 with a 1.013 OPS in 95 plate appearances over 25 games. That means we're mercifully starting to leave the 'fluky start' narrative behind. He's been the best hitter on the Nationals by a wide margain since he got called up - although that's perhaps more of an indicitment on the rest of the lineup than it is on Soto. Still, in less than a month he's probably earned the starting left field spot for the rest of the summer. Not bad. 

2. Justin Miller

Miller is 31, on his third team in four years, and owns a career ERA north of 4.50. Despite all of this, Miller's been the best reliever in baseball since coming up for the Nats. Of relief pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched (we hear your sample size comment and are not going to acknolwdge it), no one has a better FIP than Miller (0.64). He's striking out over half of the batters he sees and has yet to walk a single person this year. All the elite relief pitchers are already at 30-40 innings pitched, so Miller has a while to go before these stats mean a whole lot. If he stays even 75 percent as good as he's started, the Nats' bullpen looks scary. 

3. Michael A. Taylor

Have yourself a week or two, Michael A.! The centerfielder is slashing .500/.556/.583 over the last 14 days, the first of many "Maybe He Put It Together?!" runs we'll see from him this year. He also has six stolen bases during that span, more than anyone else on the team. His plate discipline has been better over the last two weeks, with a BB% a shade over 11 percent - only behind Juan Soto for highest on the team. Juan Soto, man. 

Three Down

1. Bryce Harper

A couple things here. We'll start with the admission that Bryce Harper is obviously not having a superb year. We've already briefly touched on why looking at only his batting average is a lazy way of judging his season, and we stand by that. With that said - Harper's had a bad season. The last month has been particularly painful. There's no way of dressing up a .189/.278/.400 slashline over the last 30 days. Still, his contact has been as great as his luck terrible - there's a positive regression coming, we promise. 

2. Pedro Severino 

And you think Harper's been slumping?? Over the same 30 days, Severino has hit .098/.179/.115 with a .294 OPS. He's essentially daring the Nats to put together a trade package for JT Realmuto at this point. He has six hits over his last 68 plate appearances and five of them are singles. 

3. Shawn Kelley

Kelley owns a 6.09 FIP and a 4.32 ERA over the last month (10 games, 8.1 innings pitched). He's walking close to nine percent of the hitters he's faced during that time. He has a 12.5 HR/FB over the last month. With the trade for Kelvin Herrera and the sudden emergence of Justin Miller, Kelley's role going forward isn't quite clear anymore. 

MORE NATS NEWS:

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Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards 2018 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jerome Robinson

The Washington Wizards hold the 15th and 44th overall picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects projected to be picked around where the Wizards will select...

2018 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jerome Robinson

School: Boston College
Position: Shooting guard
Age: 21
Height: 6-5
Weight: 188
Wingspan: 6-7
Max vertical: N/A

2017/18 stats: 20.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 48.5 FG%, 40.9 3PT% (2.3 3PT/5.7 3PA), 83.0 FT%
Player comparison: Danny Green
Projections: NBC Sports Washington 29th, NBADraft.net 16th, Bleacher Report 19th, Sports Illustrated 17th

5 things to know:

*A three-year player at BC, Robinson developed into a big-time scorer before making the leap to the NBA. He averaged 18.7 points as a sophomore and then 20.7 points as a junior while improving his shooting percentages across the board. He went from 42.3 percent from the field as a sophomore to 48.5 in 2017-18.

*Robinson turned himself into an excellent three-point shooter. After shooting just 33.3 percent as a sophomore, he got that up to 40.9 percent as a junior and on 5.7 attempts per game. That trajectory bodes well for Robinson's chances at the next level.

*He has a quick release on his jumper, giving him the ability to be effective on catch-and-shoot plays off screens. Robinson could develop into a reliable scorer who doesn't need the ball in his hands as a primary focus of the offense. He also showed the ability to throw down some powerful dunks and finish with creativity at the rim. He didn't record a vertical leap at the NBA Combine, but playing above and around the rim didn't appear to be a problem in college.

*Though it didn't show in his last season at Boston College, Robinson was adept at forcing turnovers in his first two years. He averaged 1.6 steals per game across his freshman and sophomore seasons and 16 times in his career had three steals or more in a game.

*Questions for Robinson would include his versatility and speed. Some draft evaluators wonder if he will be able to get separation off the dribble at the NBA level. Also, he put up decent rebounding and assists numbers in college but didn't exactly stand out in either category.

Fit with Wizards: Robinson would give the Wizards depth at the shooting guard position and they need that. He could help Bradley Beal pare down his minutes and offer a scoring punch off the Wizards' bench. The Wizards could use a reliable shooter to help space the floor for Kelly Oubre, Jr. and others in the second unit.

The problems with Robinson's fit would be his lack of positional versatility and what appears to be a relatively low ceiling. He's not the freak athlete that some of his counterparts are at shooting guard. If the Wizards are choosing between Robinson and guys like Zhaire Smith and Lonnie Walker IV, they could view the latter two as more enticing because of their potential. Robinson would represent a safer pick while others could pay off big-time and have a greater impact on the franchise in the long-term.

Best highlight video:

More draft prospect profiles:

Kevin Knox, PF, Kentucky

Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State

Robert Williams, PF/C, Texas A&M

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky

Zhaire Smith, SG, Texas Tech

Landry Shamet, PG/SG, Wichita State

Gary Trent, Jr., SG, Duke

Lonnie Walker IV, SG, Miami

Anfernee Simons, PG/SG, IMG Academy

Khyri Thomas, SG, Creighton

Chandler Hutchison, SG/SF, Boise State

Kevin Huerter, SG, Maryland

Mitchell Robinson, C, Western Kentucky

Troy Brown, SG/SF, Oregon

Donte DiVincenzo, SG, Villanova

Moritz Wagner, PF/C, Michigan

Aaron Holiday, PG, UCLA

Keita Bates-Diop, SF, Ohio State

For more on the NBA Draft, check out our latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast:

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