Redskins

Greer: Saints 'starting to see some light'

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Greer: Saints 'starting to see some light'

METAIRIE, La. (AP) After going winless in September, the New Orleans Saints have clawed back to within one victory of a .500 record, and what looked like a lost season without suspended coach Sean Payton has turned into something with more promise.

If the Saints win at struggling Oakland on Sunday, they will be 5-5 and one game out of the final wild card spot in the NFC. A huge 31-27 win against previously unbeaten Atlanta has left them in position to at least make a run at the playoffs.

``It was such a hole, and now that we're starting to dig our way out of it, we're starting to see some light,'' Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said. ``When we were 0-4, it was doomsday. Nobody believed that we had what it took to be a good team. Everybody had written us off.''

Greer's performance against the Falcons symbolized the arc of the season for the Saints. Burned earlier for two big gains by Atlanta's receivers, he dove in the end zone to break up a fourth-and-goal pass to Roddy White in the final two minutes.

Beaten in a variety of ways through their first four games, the Saints have won four of their last five by making plays confident teams make in critical situations.

``This win that we had yesterday was a direct result of how hard this team has worked from Day 1, when I wasn't here,'' said interim coach Joe Vitt, who improved to 2-1 since coming off his own six-game bounty-related suspension. ``This team has weathered the storm, stuck together and not pointed fingers, and they are trying to get better every day.''

Running and stopping the run have been the largest improvements.

The Saints still are on pace to give up more yards than any team in NFL history, but they limited Michael Turner to 15 yards on 13 carries while shutting down the Falcons' running game. Their first eight opponents had rushed for more than 100 yards. Atlanta finished with 46.

``The fits were right, and the resolve was there,'' defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. ``Our guys swarmed. They had an eagerness about them. I'd like to see that more often. It was a real good display of run defense there, which is great to see.''

They still rank in the bottom five of the league in rushing, but they ran for 148 yards against Atlanta, complementing Drew Brees and the prolific passing attack. Chris Ivory gained 10 more yards on his 56-yard touchdown jaunt in the first quarter than the Falcons had for the day.

After not playing in the first seven games, Ivory has 120 yards on 17 carries (7.1 average) in the last two. His long score against Atlanta came on his first attempt, and he ran 22 yards for a score on his second carry against Philadelphia on Nov. 5.

Those big plays appeared to energize the offensive line and fellow running back Mark Ingram, who has gained more than five yards a pop on 23 carries the past two weeks after averaging less than three yards before then.

``We're playing more together,'' left tackle Jermon Bushrod said. ``We're just fighting to play more consistent up front. At the end of the day, the first few weeks, we weren't getting the job done. We had too many breakdowns. If we continue to get this running game going, we can open up our playbook a little bit more.''

Atlanta's defense had no answer for the balanced offense. After Brees threw an interception on his first pass, New Orleans scored touchdowns on four of its next six possessions. The Falcons gave up 30 or more points for the first time this year as the Saints looked nothing like the team that lost at home to Washington and Kansas City in September.

``It's not a good feeling when you come into the locker room week-in and week-out and you don't win a game and you can't be joyful with your teammates the way you know how to be,'' Bushrod said. ``When we got that first win it was like, `We have got to get back here because it feels too good to win.' All that hard work you put in, you just want to see your team be successful.''

With their poor start, the Saints could have given up on the season. They had the built-in excuse of Payton's unprecedented, yearlong absence because of his bounty-related suspension.

Instead, they have guaranteed themselves meaningful games in November, possibly December and maybe even longer.

``We know we're a good team,'' Greer said. ``We know we have talent and good leadership. We are starting to develop our identity. We are looking forward to the opportunity we have.''

Notes: Saints players have said the Falcons taunted linebacker Curtis Lofton during pre-game warm-ups Sunday, and Greer said he was not surprised. Lofton, the Saints' leading tackler, played his first four years in Atlanta before signing with New Orleans as a free agent in the offseason. Said Greer: ``This is a hot-tempered game. We realize they weren't going to give him flowers and buttercups.''. Vitt refused to specify the leg injury rookie cornerback Corey White had against the Falcons. League policy allows the Saints to wait until Wednesday to provide injury updates. White was hurt two series after making his first career interception.

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5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

5 questions facing the Redskins as the Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins QB battle begins

The Redskins have a quarterback battle. Repeat, the Redskins have a quarterback battle. This is not a drill. It is an open competition. 

When the team gathers in Ashburn on Monday for offseason training activities, it will be the first time that veteran passer Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins will be on the field at the same time. Incumbent backup QB Colt McCoy should be present as well, but not active as he works back from multiple leg surgeries this offseason. 

The team has plenty of questions for the 2019 season, and the answers will start coming as early as this week. No question is bigger than the signal caller though.

  1. QB Battle - Every major factor in the Redskins organization has been clear that Haskins will get a chance to compete for the starting job. That means every throw between Keenum, the presumed starter after the 'Skins traded for him in February, and the Ohio State rookie will be over analyzed. If McCoy was healthy, he would have a jump start in the competition because he knows head coach Jay Gruden's offense. McCoy isn't healthy though, and that means more reps and work for Keenum and Haskins. This battle will be ongoing throughout the summer, but on Monday with the media present, it will be very interesting to see what player gets more work with the first-team offense.
  2. Who's still hurt - Speaking of the first-team offense, a number of players will be working back from offseason surgery. Will Paul Richardson be out there? Trent Williams? How healthy is Jordan Reed, and what about Derrius Guice? Brandon Scherff? There are a lot  of questions, and some of them will be answered simply by seeing guys run around. Second-year wideouts Cam Sims and Trey Quinn both finished the 2018 season on the injured reserve; will they be ready to go? There are a lot of people to watch out for. 
  3. STARTING DEFENSE (LATIMER VOICE*) - Landon Collins was the prize of free agency, and Monday he will be on the field barking directions at teammates. How will he fit in with Josh Norman, and how does Quinton Dunbar look? When Dunbar went down with a leg nerve injury last season, the Washington defense fell apart. If he is all the way back would be big news for Greg Manusky's defense. There's also Reuben Foster. This will be the first time for the media to see Foster on the field in a Redskins uniform after his controversial acquisition last November. Presumably Foster will answer questions after the OTA session, stay tuned for that.
  4. Camp is over for the rookies - Beyond Haskins, the Redskins have nine other draft picks taking part in OTAs. The rookies went through their own private minicamp last week, but this will be quite different. Rookie minicamp is about letting the new players get acclimated to the new facility and team; OTAs are about real work. Will Montez Sweat take the field with the Redskins first-team defense? What about the two rookie receivers in Terry McLaurin and Kelvin Harmon? There will be hiccups for the rookies, that's inevitable, but now is the time to prove they belong. With all the injuries on the offensive line, Wes Martin has the inside track on a starting job. 
  5. Absent, but not hurt - Never forget that OTAs are voluntary for players, and usually a handful of guys don't show up. That will likely happen tomorrow and some fans might react negatively. Don't be one of them. 

* If you don't get that reference, go watch The Program. 

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Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

Potential coaching staff changes rocket into discussion for Wizards

We can begin free agent watch with the Washington Wizards way before July 1.

This isn’t about players. Coaching changes can happen whenever.

News broke Saturday out of Houston that the Rockets would not retain associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik. Considered one of the league’s top defensive minds, Bzdelik’s relationship with Scott Brooks along with comments made by the Wizards head coach at the NBA Combine makes this transaction interesting.

Bzdelik, 66, gave Brooks his first NBA coaching job when the then Denver Nuggets head coach hired the former player in 2003.

"I'm thankful for coach Bzdelik," Brooks told the Houston Chronicle in 2016.  "He gave me my first NBA coaching start. One of the best coaches I've ever been around. He has great understanding of the game, both ends of the floor.”

Fast forward to Thursday inside Chicago’s Quest Multisport facility. Amid 5-on-5 games involving 2019 draft prospects, players holding court with media members and the general convention vibe that comes with the NBA Combine, Brooks spent a few minutes chatting with reporters.

Among the non-draft or general manager search topics, whether any changes to the coaching staff were forthcoming.

"I’ve talked to Ted. I definitely talked Ted,” Brooks began his reply, referencing Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. “I have a lot of respect for our organization. I have to get better, first and foremost…Will the staff remain the same? Every year, staffs change. Every year staffs change. We're probably going to make some changes. I don't know if it's for sure. Everything is still up in the air.”

Brooks also noted change could come from members of his staff seeking opportunities elsewhere. Tony Brown, Brooks’ lead assistant during his three seasons with the Wizards, became a coaching free agent following Washington’s 32-50 season, according to NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller.

Two days after Brooks’ comments came news of Bzdelik’s exit in Houston.

Bzdelik, a former Bullets assistant from 1988-94 and three-time college head coach, retired following the 2017-18 season. He returned to the Rockets in November following Houston’s slow start. The associate head coach is credited with guiding the team’s defensive improvement as the Rockets rose up the Western Conference standings.

The Houston Chronicle reported Bzdelik, whose contract expired after this season, remained uncommitted to returning. The Rockets announced Saturday they would not renew his deal.

The Wizards do not want a repeat of their defensive struggles. Only the Atlanta Hawks allowed more points per game than the 116.9 Washington surrendered last season. The Wizards ranked 28th in opponent field goal percentage (48.0) and 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (37.0).

It’s unclear how the Wizards fix those defensive concerns based solely on personnel. The current roster with five healthy players does not include any forwards or mobile big men. Point guard John Wall is expected to miss the majority of the upcoming season following February’s surgery for a ruptured Achilles. Wall, an erratic defensive presence in recent seasons, was previously selected to the NBA’s all-defensive team in 2015.

Coaching strategies could become the primary driver of change on the defensive end. The man who brought Brooks into the coaching fraternity would make for an obvious addition if both sides are interested.

"The accountability that [Jeff] taught me with the coaching staff and the players is second to none,” Brooks told the Chronicle in 2016. “I learned about work. I learned how to transfer my playing career into a coaching career with his help."

News of the next front office leader likely comes before coaching staff tweaks.

Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly was offered the same position with the Wizards Saturday after Denver granted Washington permission to meet. In the interim, the Wizards sent a contingent of scouting personnel along with Brooks to Chicago as the team conducted player interviews and watched scrimmages.

“Ted is going to make a decision and I trust that I going to be the best for the program moving forward,” Brooks said Thursday. “As of right now, (interim GM Tommy Sheppard) is doing a great job leading the group. We all feel comfortable with what’s going on. Hopefully, things work out and we move forward as an organization. We all have to get better, myself included.”

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