Hungry Hackett, 33, set to take over Bills offense

Hungry Hackett, 33, set to take over Bills offense

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett is just 33 years old, but feels a lifetime of football experience has prepared him to turn around Buffalo's inconsistent offense.

Two weeks after he was hired away from Syracuse, Hackett was officially introduced by the Bills on Thursday. The son of longtime coach Paul Hackett plans on installing a balanced, multiple-look system in Buffalo that is based upon his scheme with the Orange.

Hackett declined to discuss specifics regarding his plans for Buffalo's offense but he is looking forward to working with running back C.J. Spiller, the team's breakout star in 2012.

The Bills finished 6-10 last season and scored just 344 points under former coach Chan Gailey. Doug Marrone, who worked with Hackett at Syracuse, took over for Gailey earlier this month.

``When I first got to Syracuse, Coach Marrone and I, we had had experience in so many different systems,'' Hackett said. ``So we kind of created this system from all the different systems we've done and we wanted it to be very multiple. You always want to be able to attack in certain (ways). You never want to limit yourself.''

The Bills have received criticism for hiring Hackett, given his lack of NFL experience at the coordinator level. He has spent four years as an NFL offensive quality control coach, two of those with Buffalo. But after Hackett's success at Syracuse, Marrone had no doubts about Hackett's abilities at any level.

``I knew right away,'' Marrone said, ``that if this was the situation, Nathaniel was the one I wanted to be with.''

As a result, he interviewed only Hackett for the position.

Hackett has been around the game his entire life. His father coached on the offensive side of the ball for 40 years. On Thursday, Hackett reminisced on his time as a ballboy with the Dallas Cowboys - where he was ``in awe'' of coaching legend Tom Landry - as well as his time working under former Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay.

``You want to keep pushing yourself to learn and learn and almost get your Ph.D. in football,'' Hackett said. ``And I think that's something that I've been very lucky to be a part of and to be able to gain that experience through that time.''

Hackett, and the entire staff, must evaluate quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who struggled last season. Hackett didn't rule out the prospect of Fitzpatrick running his offense in 2013, but the franchise may have other plans.

``I'm one of those guys that I think for the way that I teach, I think anybody can have a chance in a system like this because I can tailor it to them,'' he said. ``And I think that figuring out everybody across the board - who it is and then trying to fit that person into this system - is the biggest critical factor.''

Hackett was tight-lipped regarding the stock of prospect Ryan Nassib, his former quarterback at Syracuse. Nassib has been projected by many to land in Buffalo given his pedigree and the Bills' needs.

``He's a talented guy,'' he said, ``and I was honored to work with him because he's the one that got me here.''

One who will help him stay in Buffalo long term is Spiller, a former first-round pick out of Clemson who has blossomed as a Bill. Spiller ran for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns this past season.

``I'm excited to work with him, there's no doubt about that,'' Hackett said. ``I've heard great things about him. ... I want to really get a feel for what he does great. And we'd like to do that as much as we possibly can.''

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

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Nationals win despite having to turn to little-known pitcher for pivotal start

WASHINGTON -- If any bump was coming from a return home or Mike Rizzo’s public pregame words or simply being out of New York, it was not apparent Friday.

Three errors committed in the first four innings. The first reliever into the game, Joe Ross, allowed three earned runs before recording a second out. Starter Kyle McGowin barely made it through the fourth inning of an eventual and desperately needed 12-10 win.

The rally kept the Nationals from creeping toward of new level of dubiousness in this muck-filled season. They pushed 2 ½ games in front of the Marlins for the National League’s worst record. Juan Soto hit a three-run homer in the eighth. Matt Adams followed with a solo homer. Sean Doolittle had trouble, but closed the game. Those efforts kept this from being another story about the bullpen (five more runs allowed Friday).

So, here’s a different question to ponder (there are a million or none, depending on point of view) after Friday night: How did the Nationals end up with 27-year-old McGowin starting a surprisingly pivotal game?

The nuts-and-bolts version is because of injuries. Both Anibal Sanchez -- who threw a simulation game Friday -- and Jeremy Hellickson are on the injured list. The deeper answer comes from looking at the recent erosion of pitchers in Washington’s minor-league system.

McGowin made his second career start Friday because there is no one else. No hot minor-league prospect, no early-round pick who has been up and down and received another shot, no veteran stashed in the minor leagues for such situations.

Looming behind all of this is the 2016 trade of three pitching prospects to acquire Adam Eaton. Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning were all sent to Chicago for Eaton’s advanced-stats and cost-friendly contract. The departure of three starting pitchers in one shot reverberated Friday when the Nationals were forced to use McGowin in a spot start as the seventh starter of the season.

This is more a volume than quality issue. Neither Lopez or Giolito were effective in limited chances at the major-league level with Washington before being traded. Once in Chicago, Giolito became arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. No one allowed more earned runs or walks that season. Lopez had a quality season, finishing with 3.1 WAR.

The two have reversed outcomes in 2019. Giolito has rediscovered his velocity. After throwing 100 mph in the 2015 Futures Game, his velocity caved. Giolito was down to 92-93 mph with the Nationals and, initially, Chicago. Thursday, he hit 97 mph in the ninth inning of a shutout against Houston. The outing drove his ERA down to 2.77.

Lopez is struggling. His 5.14 ERA is venturing toward Giolito’s status of a year ago. His walk total -- always the concern -- is up, as are his homers allowed.

But what Giolito and Lopez have, at age 24 and 25, respectively, is potential. Giolito, who often fussed with his mechanics in Washington, has discovered a delivery to expedite his fastball and an approach to boost the effectiveness of his changeup. Lopez’s 2018 showed he can be a solid back-end rotation member. They were expected to follow behind Erick Fedde and Joe Ross in establishing a future rotation. But, those two are in Chicago, Ross is in the bullpen, where he gave up three runs Friday, and Fedde just returned to the rotation after being moved to the bullpen.

So, it was McGowin on the mound Friday. Four innings, six hits, five runs, one walk, two strikeouts, two home runs allowed. Why? No better choice is available.


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Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Nationals grant boys wish to be a player for a day

The Nationals welcomed 10-year-old cancer patient Parker Staples as the newest addition to their team on Friday, in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation.

While battling lymphoma, Staples learned he would receive a wish and didn’t hesitate about what he wanted to choose. After being sidelined for two years during treatment, Parker couldn’t wait to celebrate his remission by becoming part of his favorite baseball team. 

Staples was introduced to his new teammates and got signed autographs from Matt Adams, Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, and Yan Gomes. He also got to spend time hitting and playing catch with his new teammates, as well as being interviewed as the newest member of the team. It gets even better than that, Staples threw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park leading up to the Marlins-Nationals game Staples 

"My favorite moment was throwing the first pitch. It was really cool," Staples said.

"Probably the biggest day of my life."

The Nationals are hosted the Miami Marlins in the series opener Friday.