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Erratic Steelers still searching for consistency

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Erratic Steelers still searching for consistency

PITTSBURGH (AP) Casey Hampton believes greatness is still within reach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, even if at the moment the only thing Hampton's team has a firm grasp on is maddening inconsistency.

``Going forward I feel like we're going to win every game,'' the veteran nose tackle said. ``That's what we've got to do to get in the playoffs.''

Better that than try to rely on the kind of help the Steelers received on Sunday, when a demoralizing 34-24 home loss to San Diego did minimal damage to their postseason hopes. Pittsburgh ended the day in the same position it began, holding onto the AFC's final wild card spot.

The grip, however, is sure to get slippery if things don't turn around quickly.

``We can't be happy just because other teams lost and we're still in it,'' linebacker Larry Foote said. ``It's one of those gut-checking times.''

Maybe it's a good thing the next three weeks hardly look like gimmes. Pittsburgh has done its best work this season when backed into a corner, and a road trip to Dallas (7-6) followed by home games against AFC North rivals Cincinnati (7-6) and quickly improving Cleveland (5-8) to wrap up the regular season is sure to get the Steelers' attention.

If not, a season that looked promising a month ago will end before the calendar flips to 2013.

``Good teams have to find a way to win,'' defensive end Brett Keisel.

Even if it's hard to tell which side of the equation the Steelers are on at the moment. A resume that includes wins on the road at Baltimore, Cincinnati and the New York Giants also includes losses to Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and the Chargers, who are a combined 17-35.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can't quite put a finger on why the Steelers play so well against good teams and so poorly against also-rans. And unlike the losses to the Browns, Raiders and Titans, this one wasn't even close.

The Chargers, finishing out the string under likely lame-duck coach Norv Turner, dominated the first 40 minutes and built a 27-3 lead en route to winning in Pittsburgh during the regular season for the first time in franchise history.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers picked on Steelers cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown relentlessly. The duo, getting extended playoff time in place of injured starter Ike Taylor, struggled against the Chargers' big wide receivers. San Diego converted 12 of 22 third downs, with 11 of them coming through the air, and all but two of them coming with Allen and Brown in coverage.

Coach Mike Tomlin actually benched Brown in the second half in favor of Josh Victorian, who was activated from the practice squad an hour before game time.

``We didn't make the necessary plays that we needed to make,'' Allen said. ``We have to be better as a whole. We just have to be better.''

Something the Steelers tend to be against the league's better teams. Pittsburgh's high points this fall have come in an inspiring 24-20 win over the Giants Nov. 4, and an invigorating 23-20 comeback triumph in Baltimore last week.

They cruised past the Washington Redskins with ease, crushed the New York Jets and handled the Philadelphia Eagles when it looked like their cross-state rivals had a pulse.

The key to those victories, however, came in lights-out defense and a hint of a running game. The Steelers had neither against the Chargers. Jonathan Dwyer managed all of 32 yards rushing, or one more than Roethlisberger gained on five last-option scrambles.

Though Roethlisberger passed for 285 yards and three scores, most of the yards and all of the touchdowns came after San Diego had the game firmly in hand.

Roethlisberger, as he tends to do, took responsibility for the lack of production though he was hardly helped out by his wide receivers or his short-handed offensive line.

Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both watched deep balls that could have changed the game bounce harmlessly away in the first half and Roethlisberger spent long portions of the afternoon under significant duress.

Pittsburgh will continue to shuffle the line next week after left guard Willie Colon went down with a knee injury in the first half. Center Maurkice Pouncey moved from center to guard, with Doug Legursky taking over for Pouncey. Putting a line together on the fly is nothing new for the Steelers, who did it with great aplomb two years ago en route to the Super Bowl.

At this point, nobody is thinking that far down the road. And after getting plenty of help on Sunday, Pittsburgh knows it's time to start helping itself if it wants to play into January.

``Our goals are still big,'' Foote said. ``We have to correct this thing and make a commitment.''

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jaxson Hayes

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2019 NBA Draft prospect profile: Jaxson Hayes

The Washington Wizards will have the ninth overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Here is the latest in our series on draft prospects who could fall around where the Wizards will select...

2019 NBA Draft Wizards Prospect Preview: Jaxson Hayes

School: Texas
Position: Center
Age: 19
Height: 7-0
Weight: 219
Wingspan: 7-4
Max vertical: 34.5 in.

2018/19 stats: 10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.2 bpg, 72.8 FG% (3.8/5.3), 00.0 3PT% (0.0/0.0), 74.0 FT%

Player comparison: Jarrett Allen, John Henson

Projections: NBC Sports Washington 10th, NBADraft.net 9th, Bleacher Report 10th, Sports Illustrated 9th, Ringer 10th

5 things to know:

*Hayes is considered the best center prospect in this year's class. He is athletic, plays with energy and measured in at the combine at about 7-feet in shoes with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He can run the floor and play above the rim.

*The skill that stands out most for Hayes is rim protection. He averaged 2.2 blocks in only 23.3 minutes per game. That extrapulates to 5.7 blocks over 100 possessions. He has long arms and appears to have good instincts tracking the ball in the lane. He is following in the footsteps of fellow Texas shot-blockers before him like Myles Turner and Jarrett Allen. The latter may be the best player comparison for Hayes in today's NBA.

*Hayes is not considered a very good rebounder. He averaged 5.0 per game and only once reached double figures. It could be that he just needs to add some weight, an issue that is correctable but would hurt him even more at the NBA level initially. The worst-case concern is that he is soft and won't do the necessary dirty work.

*At this point, Hayes offers nothing in the way of an outside shot. He didn't attempt a single three-pointer in college and didn't do much on offense outside of dunks and putbacks. In order to justify being taken with a high draft pick, he will either need to develop a post game, an outside shot or be extremely good on defense. His lack of an all-round game will certainly give some teams pause in evaluating him.

*Hayes comes from a family of impressive athletes. His father played 12 seasons in the NFL and recently served as the tight ends coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. His mother played basketball at Drake University and later coached in college, including a stint as an assistant at Oklahoma. Hayes followed his father's footsteps by playing wide receiver in high school before a growth spurt made it clear basketball was the path to go.

Fit with Wizards: Hayes is one of the best fits for the Wizards among the players who could be available with the ninth pick. He does what they arguably lack the most, which is play defense and more specifically protect the rim.

The Wizards allowed the most field goals within five feet of any team this past season and the third-highest field goal percentage in that range. They desperately need someone who can block and alter shots.

Hayes would likely be the Wizards' best shot-blocker Day 1. But whether he can help them in other ways is a question at this point.

Hayes would represent a bit of a project for the Wizards and may not have All-Star potential because of his offensive limitations. Still, he remains one of their best options in the first round. Long-term, he could transform their defense and form a strong pick-and-roll partner for John Wall.

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Watching Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum, one quarterback definitely stands out

Watching Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum, one quarterback definitely stands out

The Redskins might be just in the beginning of a quarterback battle, but at Monday's OTA session, it seemed pretty clear which player would eventually win. 

Dwayne Haskins made a number of impressive throws while he was on the field, and while Case Keenum had his share of good passes too, the rookie shined. Even on the surface: Haskins looks the part of a franchise quarterback, standing 6-foot-3 and 230 lbs. Keenum is listed at 6-foot-1 and 215 lbs, but that seems fairly generous. 

When Haskins throws the ball, it zips through the air. He can go deep and has touch on his underneath routes. Keenum gets the ball where it needs to be, but there's a difference in velocity. 

Let's be crystal clear, however, that one OTA session in May will not determine the starting quarterback job. While Keenum and Haskins are both learning the Redskins offense, Keenum has proved he can stand in the pocket of an NFL game and make plays. Haskins has never seen the size or speed of NFL defensive linemen. 

"It’s a long process and I think they both handled it well today," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Hopefully we’ll do better tomorrow and the next day and so on and so forth and I’m sure it will be a good, lengthy competition with some great players going at it."

A few, unexpected things stood out with Haskins.

Though he has a long windup on his throws, the ball gets out plenty fast. He also seemed quicker in the pocket than some of his NFL Scouting Combine numbers would suggest. Haskins certainly isn't fast, but he's not a plodder either. That said, Keenum does seem to have the advantage in squirting through the line of scrimmage and keeping plays alive. That's something Gruden really likes in his passers.

Both of the QBs seemed comfortable with their role in the competition. 

"It’s normal. I compete every day whether I’m playing football, playing ping pong, playing golf, I’m competing. I’m competing against myself. I’m competing against the defense. In the quarterback room, we’re always competing," Keenum said. "Competition makes you better and that’s what the spring is about."

Haskins sounded very tactful in his responses; respectful of the veterans already on the team in Keenum and Colt McCoy, yet also eager to get more work.

"I want to be with the best, be around the best, and compete with the best. All season I’ll be around working out with the best quarterbacks on my team," the rookie said. 

Planned or not, Haskins also seemed modest in his goals for the OTA session. 

"I didn’t have any expectations for today, I just wanted to execute. The biggest thing for me was going to play right in the huddle."

That stands out in stark contrast to the Redskins last first-round rookie passer, Robert Griffin III. Expectations for RG3 were out of control, almost immediately, and while parts of his rookie season actually lived up to the hype, that situation was not healthy or sustainable. It's smart for Haskins to set reasonable goals at this stage of his career. Calling plays correctly in the huddle will get him on the field more, and that will give him more chances to make big plays.

It's a learning process, and at OTAs, Haskins showed a willingness to start on the ground floor. In a world of egos and branding, that's a sage move. 

While McCoy was not present on the field at OTAs, he is in Ashburn. He will be a part of this competition, but he needs to get healthy soon. Gruden didn't provide much of an update when asked about McCoy, though the coach did say the quarterback should be back on the field for training camp.

McCoy knows the Redskins offense backward and forward, but without him on the field, Keenum and Haskins are learning the Redskins plays at the same time. And that means while Gruden is looking at a rookie and a veteran, neither player has much of a leg up on his playbook. 

"I think we have to grade them based on production out here every day. Every day is a new grade, every day you see how they’re developing, see how they’re getting better, see if they’re making the same mistakes over and over. But it’s a process, this is the first time Dwyane has had a chance to call plays in a live huddle and go after a live defense and this is the first time Case has had a chance to do that with the Redskins terminology. So, we don’t expect perfection on the day one, but we do expect the guys to know what they’re doing when we go out to the practice field, execute and then continue to get better each and every day."

Get better each day. Compete. That's the cornerstone of success in the NFL, and for the Redskins, how QB1 will find his spot.

"Somebody is going to rise I would think," the coach said. "The cream always rises to the top and we’re hoping that’s the case.”

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