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Indianapolis preparing for Pagano's return

Indianapolis preparing for Pagano's return

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Colts head coach Chuck Pagano can resume coaching whenever he's ready.

On Thursday, Dr. Larry Cripe, told The Associated Press that Pagano had been cleared to return and that it was up to the coach and the Colts to determine when that will happen, and how much Pagano will do. Pagano's physician is not imposing any restrictions, either.

Pagano is expected to return to the team complex as early as Monday.

``Medically, I see no reason he cannot come back when he's ready to try and come back,'' Cripe said. ``Coach has done a great job with this, and I trust him.''

Cripe said he gave Pagano the good news the last time they met, though he declined to say when that happened.

Pagano has not been on the sideline since a Sept. 23 loss to Jacksonville, Indy's only home defeat this season.

Three days later, he was diagnosed with leukemia and immediately began the first of three rounds of chemotherapy. Players and most of the assistant coaches were told Oct. 1, the day the Colts returned from their bye, that Pagano was taking an indefinite leave from the team and that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians would fill in as interim coach. The team has left the light on in Pagano's office since then.

On Nov. 5, Cripe said the disease was in ``complete remission'' and that Pagano would undergo two more rounds of chemotherapy to ensure all the cancer cells had been destroyed. Pagano is scheduled to take oral medication and be closely monitored by doctors for the next two years.

During treatment, Pagano stayed in communication with players and coaches through phone calls and text messages; watched tape of practices and games; occasionally showed up at the team complex; and has spoken to the team before and after home games.

All the while, doctors continuously monitored Pagano's white blood-cell count to make sure the recovery was progressing.

But the Colts always pegged the Dec. 30 regular-season finale against Houston as the date they hoped to have Pagano back on the sideline - a goal that now appears likely to be met.

``I love that guy and I would love to see him in person on the sideline,'' Cripe said when asked if he would attend the Dec. 30 game. ``To me, the bottom line is that he's done what he needed to do, and he's done it with the clear goal that he wants to be coaching as soon as he can.''

Officially, the Colts (9-5) have not said when Pagano will return.

On Wednesday, Arians told reporters the team was keeping its fingers crossed and that it would be a ``great Christmas present'' if Pagano returned on Christmas Eve. When asked if he was ready to coach his final game, Arians responded: ``Heck, yes.''

Players are eager to get him back, too.

``It's going to be crazy. It's going to be a great moment, just having him back on an everyday basis with the team, knowing that's what he really wants, back with us coaching and back on the sideline,'' safety Antoine Bethea said. ``Obviously we know it's going to be emotional. It's going to be a great time.''

Cripe has given Pagano the same advice he does all of his patients: Don't try to do too much too fast.

``Look, if you get pooped out, adjust,'' he said.

What Pagano will find when he gets back is a vastly different team.

In early October, many still considered Indy one of the league's worst teams. Now, the Colts are a confident group on the verge of clinching their first playoff berth of the past-Peyton Manning era with a win Sunday at Kansas City or a Steelers loss.

The Colts are also chasing history.

With a win Sunday, Arians would tie the NFL record for victories after a midseason coaching change (nine) and the Colts would become only the fourth team to go from two or fewer wins to 10 or more the following season.

When Pagano was still coaching, Andrew Luck was trying to get comfortable in his new NFL surroundings, too. Now he owns the league's rookie records for most fourth-quarter comebacks (six), most victories by a No. 1 overall draft choice in the modern era (nine), and most yards passing in one game (433). He needs 26 attempts, 47 completions and 74 yards passing to break the NFL's single-season rookie records in all three categories. He still has an outside chance of catching Peyton Manning's rookie record for TD passes (28). Luck is currently 308 of 564 for 3,978 yards with 20 TDs and 18 interceptions.

But it was Pagano's illness that Arians credits for making all of this possible.

``They found a reason to play and when a team finds a reason to play, they'll overcome some things,'' Arians said. ``Chuck's illness took everybody, even strangers that we would bring off the street on Wednesday and we'd play on Sunday, and they'd fight their tails off. When you have guys playing hard for 60 minutes, you're going to win some games because most teams in this league don't play hard for 60 minutes.''

Most expect the transition from Arians back to Pagano to go smoothly. Coaches are anticipating the day-to-day operations will essentially remain unchanged from the script Pagano followed before taking his leave.

``We would always talk back and forth about what was good, what was not good and how we were going to try and defend our next opponent. So we're going to go back to that,'' defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said.

He added: ``When he comes in, we're ready to roll, same thing. It's uncharted territory I guess you would say.''

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

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In a contract year, Andre Burakovsky is still trying to find offensive consistency

Injuries and a suspension to Tom Wilson have kept things interesting for Todd Reirden in his first season as head coach of the Capitals.

At first, that meant figuring out an optimal lineup out of the players who were still available. But now there will be another challenge Reirden faces as the team continues to get healthy and that’s figuring out who to take out of the lineup.

On Tuesday, that player was Burakovsky.

“I just felt like going into [Tuesday’s] game that the other players had taken more advantage of the opportunity than he had recently,” Reirden said before Tuesday’s game. “For me, it's a rewards/earned ice time situation where there's a lot of competition. What happens is when players get opportunities and they play well, then it creates competition. Some have to win, some have to lose in that competition. Right now, that's what we've chosen to go with.”

Burakovsky’s career has been plagued by up-and-down play and scoring slumps. For the season, he has managed only eight points in 29 games. He did manage to score the game-winner against Arizona on Dec. 6, but that goal came after two very lackluster period of play by him.

“It's part of sports, I guess,” Burakovsky said Wednesday. “It is a tough sport. You're competing against the best players in the world. That's just how it is right now and I've just got to battle through it.”

Burakovsky has been cycled throughout the lineup this season, but has not gained any traction with any line or with any particular linemates so far. Thus, a player with top-six skill finds himself on the outside looking in at the lineup.

“I think guys on the team has been playing really well and deserve to play and have done a little bit more than maybe I have in the past now,” Burakovsky said. “We've been winning so that's most important thing and when I get the chance, I'm just going to go in and do my thing, play my game.”

Reirden said he was impressed by how Burakovsky has responded in practice. Given Reirden’s “rewards” system of coaching that should mean Burakovsky gets back into the lineup sooner rather than later. But if he continues to struggle to keep his production up, he will have a hard time staying in.

With both Oshie and Wilson now back from injury, the Caps have 14 forwards on the roster meaning two forwards will have to be scratched each game. There’s no one currently in the top six you would take out for Burakovsky and considering how well players like Brett Connolly are playing plus the chemistry the fourth line has found, there is not much room to plug in a struggling winger who still cannot find any consistent production.

This also calls into question what Burakovsky’s future on the team may be. Burakovsky is on the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It will take a qualifying offer of $3.25 million from the Caps just to retain his rights as an RFA meaning general manager Brian MacLellan is going to have to determine if he is worth that much.

As dire as his contract situation may appear from the outside looking in – especially for a player who has had confidence issues in the past – he says his next contract is not something he is thinking too much about.

“I'm not worried about my future,” Burakovsky said. “I know what I can do out there. I think I've proved what I can do and sometimes you just have to battle a little bit harder than you wanted to and it's going to happen. Right now, I think it's kind of what I'm doing.”

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It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

It's not just Alex Smith - Derrius Guice also dealt with post-surgery infection

During the last month, the average Redskin fan learned more about post-surgery infections than most football fans ever considered. 

The news surrounding Alex Smith's recovery from a broken leg has been upsetting, particularly that Smith has dealt with a serious infection and had to undergo multiple procedures to clean up the wound. Smith's situation was unique, he broke the tibia and fibula in his right leg, and the fracture wasn't clean

Still, alarming news emerged this week that Smith was not the only Redskins player to deal with post-surgery infection. 

Rookie Derrius Guice injured his knee in the preseason, ending his season and ruining a full offseason of momentum. Before he ever played a game, Guice became a fan favorite with his engaging enthusiasm. Then, he injured his knee in the preseason and was lost for the year. 

For many players, surgery is tough, but then rehab begins. 

For Guice - like Smith - that wasn't the case.

After his knee surgery, Guice suffered an infection that lasted two months and required three additional procedures, The Washington Post reported. That required seven weeks of antibiotics which included significant use of IVs, swelling, flu-like symptoms and having his knee drained. 

The experience forced Guice to stay in Louisiana for months, closer to Dr. James Andrews office in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and away from his Redskins teammates in Ashburn. 

Now, finally, Guice is feeling better and expects to be all the way back for offseason work in 2019. That's great news for the Redskins.

Guice was considered to be the focal point of the Washington offense before the knee injury in the preseason, and he's a running back with immense potential. 

On some level, however, it's quite alarming that both Smith and Guice suffered infections after major injuries. 

Smith's injury was grotesque enough that there were immediate worries of infection. Even with the advanced concern, the infection still came. 

Guice's injury was severe, but not like Smith. And still, the infection came. 

It would take a forensic medical team to compare the situations and figure out if there is something the Redskins need to address. That won't happen on this page. 

At the same time, however, what were the odds back in training camp that the Redskins' then starting quarterback and running back would not only need surgery on their leg, but both would suffer from post-op infection? 

Like many things with the Redskins' 2018 season, there seem to be more questions than answers. The good news, Guice should be back for 2019. As of now, the same can't be said for Smith. 

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