Nationals

Jones-Drew making progress on field, in classroom

Jones-Drew making progress on field, in classroom

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is making progress toward getting back on the field and getting his college degree.

Jones-Drew started running for the first time in nearly two months Wednesday, but remains a long shot to play Sunday when the Jaguars (2-12) host New England (10-4).

Jones-Drew has missed the last eight games because of a sprained left foot. Coach Mike Mularkey called his star running back ``questionable,'' an upgrade from his ``highly questionable'' status of recent weeks.

``I just don't want to go out there and put anybody else in jeopardy if I can't be full speed,'' Jones-Drew said. ``If I can't go out there and fully protect our quarterback, help our offensive line and block, I'm not going to go out there and put somebody else's life in jeopardy.''

With two games remaining, the Jaguars have little left to play for in what will go down as the worst season in franchise history.

And Jones-Drew has nothing to prove. He led the NFL in rushing last season, has another year remaining on a lucrative contract and remains the centerpiece of the franchise.

But standing on the sideline has been difficult for the ultra-competitive back who has been telling teammates for weeks that ``losers tend to quit when things get tough.''

``For me, it's just more to show my teammates and the league that people get hurt and you just have to be able to bounce back,'' he said. ``Watching these guys for a long time and coaching, you got to be able to preach what you coach. I've been doing a lot of talking. I haven't been able to go out there and do it yet, so hopefully I can get out there and be able to show some of the guys what I've been talking about.''

Jones-Drew is going back to school for similar reasons.

When he left UCLA after his junior season in 2006, Jones-Drew promised his mother and his grandparents that he would return to school and get his degree.

Football, family, cross-country travel and plenty of other excuses make college an afterthought.

But with the Jaguars long removed from playoff contention and his youngest child now 19 months old, Jones-Drew is going back to college. He's taking three business classes beginning Jan. 7.

``Some of these schools, they'll take a check for that degree,'' he said. ``I am not going to say who, not going to say what schools, but at UCLA, you got to go back. You can't take online classes. You have to go back and actually go in the classroom. That made it tough.''

And get this: Jones-Drew wants to live in a dorm.

``I don't think I'll be a college kid again,'' he said. ``College kids don't make what I make, and I don't party like that, don't do those things. I just go to school and catch up on a lot of sleep. I have to get here at 6:30 every morning and I've got three kids at home, man. I don't get a lot of sleep with those guys.''

Maybe the best news for coach Mike Mularkey and the Jaguars is that Jones-Drew is just going to college for a quarter and doesn't plan on missing anything mandatory in the offseason.

``I probably won't train'' in Jacksonville, Jones-Drew said. ``I'm going to train the way I've trained for the last seven years.''

Jones-Drew skipped the entire offseason program in 2012, sitting out training camp and the preseason during a 38-day holdout while looking for a new contract. The Jaguars didn't budge, refusing to renegotiate since he had two years remaining on a five-year deal worth $31.5 million. He made $4.45 million this season and due to get $4.95 million next year.

He said Wednesday he doesn't plan on another holdout.

``We'll see how it goes,'' he said. ``Things could change, though.''

His status for the Patriots could change, too, depending on how his foot responds to Wednesday's workout.

``I will be very surprised if he can go out there and run like we want him to run today,'' Mularkey said. ``I will be very surprised. ... I'm happy he's going to be out there running, making an effort to push that thing and see how it's going to feel.''

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Nats return to quiet Nationals Park to start a grand experiment

Nats return to quiet Nationals Park to start a grand experiment

WASHINGTON -- A heart with the letters “DC” was cut into the middle of center field Friday at Nationals Park. A member of the grounds crew dragged the hose onto the infield to water it down while an unrelenting 94-degree day baked the dirt. Orange agility cones sat in right field. The batting cage framed home plate. And, a light breeze stirred in the park’s upper reaches.

Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Ryan Zimmerman adorned the giant outfield posters beyond center field. Scherzer’s eyes remained on a booth above right field. The giant video board was blank and black.

It was in this setting baseball in Washington took its first steps toward trying to pull off a post-pandemic season in 2020. The Nationals worked out through the day, being dispatched in pods, making the park work the best they can. They had to use the clock to create space since there are not enough mounds or fields. The whole scene was strange.

This weekend was expected to come with fervor. Houston was supposed to be in town for a three-game series. Dusty Baker would be in the opposing dugout. Trash cans would brace for a weekend of abuse, as would the Astros. The line to get into the stadium would have shot up toward the Navy Yard Metro stop; bars across the street would have been packed; the weather would be thanked.

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Instead, seagulls were the main source of noise in between workouts Friday. Scherzer pitched a simulated game early in the day, going two “innings” and 65 pitches, before a group of position players trickled on the field around 2:45 p.m. The workouts are running from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Players are being tested before they hit the field. Davey Martinez is fighting urges throughout.

“The first thing you want to do when you see the guys come in after not seeing them for a while, you want to give them a big hug, a fist bump, high-five,” Martinez said. “Had to stop myself today from almost spitting in my mask because I drank some water -- you're just used to it. But, yeah, those things are going to be things we have to abide by just because of the safety precautions. So, we're trying to figure out what we can do to emulate some kind of handshake or fist-bump or elbow tap or feet tap, whatever. We'll figure something out.”

Major League Baseball is trying to play 900 games in 30 cities in the middle of a pandemic. The odds of it working are low. Mitigation is a key concern. Being diligent is an ongoing topic. Mike Rizzo said players will not go out when on the road. Martinez spoke about extrapolations: it’s not about you, it’s about everybody else. Then, he wondered if the whole thing could be pulled off.

“You know, honestly, that's a good question,” Martinez said. “Honestly, I don't know, but we're going to do our best to keep everybody safe. We really are. These long days are meant to keep everybody away from each other right now with social distancing. Wearing a mask. Our coaching staff is wearing masks on the field. So, we're trying to do everything we can to keep these guys safe. Getting tested quite often. So, we're going to do everything we can to keep everybody that's involved safe.”

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Earlier in the day, Martinez’s longtime friend and mentor, Joe Maddon, suggested if players can’t follow the health protocols set forth by the league, they should opt-out of playing. Martinez agreed. If you are in the park, on the flights, in the field, the expectation is every rule will be followed precisely. Winning depends on it.

“This is going to be tough for everybody,” Martinez said. “You’ve got to be mentally strong. You’ve got to be prepared for things that we’re not used to doing on a baseball field. Definitely going to be a work in progress. But I think our boys understand what’s happening. The guys that are here want this to work, and we’re going to do everything we can to make it work.”

A batch of outfielders took ground balls and pop outs in right field around 3 p.m. Adam Eaton’s voice could be heard -- so there was at least a portion of normalcy there. Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson and others slowly moved about the field before making their way to home plate to hit. The sound of bat meeting ball echoed throughout the park.

All the blue seats were empty. The gates were locked. No organ, no perpetual smell of food, no season-ticket holders assembling in the 300 level behind home plate where so many chants originate. The first day was almost over. The hardest days are still to come.

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Browns' TE David Njoku reportedly wants a trade, so could his new team be the Redskins?

Browns' TE David Njoku reportedly wants a trade, so could his new team be the Redskins?

Browns tight end David Njoku has reportedly asked the franchise for a trade.

"It is in David's best interest to find a new team at this time,” his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

Well, could that new team be the Redskins?

Washington, of course, has an enormous need at the position. On an already weak offense, tight end is easily the most lacking spot when it comes to both talent and experience.

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Now, while Njoku hasn’t fully delivered on his first-round status since coming into the league since 2017, he’d still instantly become Washington’s most dangerous threat on the depth chart. That’s even with him missing most of 2019 with a broken wrist.

According to Schefter, Cleveland has apparently told Njoku they’d like to keep him, but Rosenhaus still wants his client to be moved. The organization signed Austin Hooper to a major deal this past March and also drafted Harrison Bryant in April.

The question for the Redskins is: What would they be willing to give up for the soon to be 24-year-old? And also, would Ron Rivera want to initiate a transaction? He’s indicated multiple since taking over that 2020 is all about evaluating what he has in Washington before going and adding outside pieces.

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We already know the Burgundy and Gold were interested in signing former Panthers' TE Greg Olsen on a cheaper deal before he landed with the Seahawks, but that they weren’t willing to spend the amount of cash Hooper earned with the Browns.

Njoku, who’d likely cost a decent draft pick or player, falls somewhere between those two. Let’s see if the Redskins decide whether he’s worth pursuing, or if they’ll let someone else make the swap – if it even happens.

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