Redskins

LeBeau intends on returning to Steelers in 2013

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LeBeau intends on returning to Steelers in 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) Armed with a promise from his beloved defensive coordinator that he wouldn't retire without first informing his players, Ryan Clark threatened to avoid Dick LeBeau.

``I didn't want to hear it, so I've told him, `If you try to leave, well, you didn't see me and tell me, so you can't,''' said Clark, the Steelers' free safety. ```That would make you not to be a man of your word, and I know you as such.'''

Clark needn't worry. The 75-year-old LeBeau has every intention of returning in 2013 for what would be a 55th consecutive season in the NFL.

LeBeau opened his first meeting of the week with his defense by telling players he'll come back for a 10th season as Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator.

LeBeau, a Hall of Famer, publicly will only say his status is in the hands of head coach Mike Tomlin. But with the defense ranked No. 1 in the NFL for the second consecutive season and fifth time in nine years, there's little reason to think Tomlin would make a change.

``Let's just say I really like Pittsburgh and I really like working for the Steelers,'' LeBeau said after practice Thursday. ``Coach Tomlin will tell you if he wants me back or not. It will be up to Mike.''

Asked as a follow-up if he would come back if asked, LeBeau smiled and said, ``I love Pittsburgh.''

The city has come to love LeBeau, too, after he orchestrated a defense that has ranked in the top five of the league in 10 of his 11 seasons as defensive coordinator. LeBeau also held the job in 1995-96 under former head coach Bill Cowher.

Not even the famed Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970's - statistically, at least - can match what LeBeau's units have accomplished. Only two Steelers teams during their run of four Super Bowl titles in six years under Chuck Noll were No. 1 in total defense.

Since LeBeau returned for his second stint with the franchise in 2004, the Steelers have been to three Super Bowls - winning two - and have had the No. 1 defense five times.

``We know he's the best in the game,'' veteran linebacker Larry Foote said. ``I think everybody else around the league knows it. A lot of times in the games it turns into a chess match, and he wins his share.''

Known as the architect of the so-called ``zone blitz,'' LeBeau's teams have been known for the confusion they cause and for their pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His record against rookie starting quarterbacks over the past nine years is 14-2.

His resume after more than a half-century in the league earns the respect of players - but it's his calm and fatherly demeanor that endears those who play for LeBeau to him.

They openly campaigned for LeBeau to get into the Hall of Fame for his 14-year career with the Detroit Lions that included 62 interceptions. LeBeau wept when, on New Year's Day 2006, his players en masse showed up for a game against Detroit wearing his throwback No. 44 Lions jersey.

``One of the joys of coming to work as a Pittsburgh Steeler free safety is getting to see Coach Lebeau every year,'' Clark said.

LeBeau, who was head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2000-02, doesn't look like a man who will be 76 when next season opens.

``He's like a grandfather - but I don't want to say grandfather because he doesn't really act like a typical grandfather,'' Foote said. ``He's a man of a lot of jokes and wisdom and he encourages everybody.

``He can get around, especially when all his buddies come in. He's always screaming, always running around, doing push-ups.''

Keenly aware of where his defense ranks, LeBeau could have gone out with a team that has a chance of finishing the season No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense. Heading into the season finale Sunday against Cleveland (5-10), the Steelers are No. 2 in rushing defense and No. 1 in the other two categories.

But those stout numbers haven't translated into enough victories this season, with Pittsburgh (7-8) set to miss the playoffs for only the third time in LeBeau's 14 seasons on the staff. He was Cowher's defensive backfield coach from 1992-94.

Despite the gaudy overall rankings this season, LeBeau's Steelers weren't the ``closers'' they were in the past. Four times, Pittsburgh blew a fourth-quarter lead. The Steelers also uncharacteristically finished in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks and turnovers forced.

``The truth of the matter is we didn't get off to a really good start on defense this year,'' LeBeau said. ``I don't think it was ever quite as bad as it was perceived to be, but we weren't playing the way we wanted to play. For, I'd say over a month and a half now, our third down numbers have been good. We got a little behind early in all phases, but these guys stayed together and played pretty doggone good defense and got us back to where we like to be, up near the top of the bunch.''

As usual, LeBeau credits the players for the defense's success. That's just one reason why they share such adulation for him.

``He sets the tone,'' Foote said. ``He's the reason. He always brings us guys together. He puts us in the right situation to make plays.''

Notes: TE Heath Miller was named team MVP after a vote by the players. Miller, who has a team-high 71 receptions and is tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns, had surgery Thursday to repair multiple torn ligaments in his right knee. He is the first tight end to win the award. ... RT Mike Adams was named team rookie of the year and NT Casey Hampton was given the ``Chief Award'' for cooperation with the media.

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Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Three ways the Redskins helped Dwayne Haskins truly shine for the first time

Dwayne Haskins played really well Sunday against the Eagles, and it wasn't just on certain drives or in specific situations. Haskins put together a complete and encouraging performance in Week 15, and for that, he deserves a lot of credit.

But the Redskins' coaching staff, and most notably Kevin O'Connell, should be praised as well for setting Haskins up to shine versus Philly.

Here are three things O'Connell and the offense did at FedEx Field that contributed to the rookie's best effort as a pro.

They were more aggressive on early downs

The following two things are true: 1) Bill Callahan loves Adrian Peterson, and 2) Adrian Peterson has a legitimate shot at rushing for more than 1,000 yards this season. Because of those two facts, it felt like Sunday was setting up to be the Peterson Show, especially on first down.

It wasn't, though, and that greatly benefitted Haskins.

No. 7 found Terry McLaurin for a nine-yarder to start the contest, a throw that allowed the QB to settle into a nice rhythm from the start. The 75-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to McLaurin was also a first down toss, one that featured play-action:

A first down pass in the second quarter, meanwhile, led to a defensive pass interference that advanced the ball 14 yards. On that possession, Haskins would eventually find Steven Sims for a score. 

Throughout the matchup, the Burgundy and Gold seemed more comfortable with trusting Haskins to attack the Eagles, and that's something he very much enjoyed.

"I hope to continue to do it," he told reporters postgame.

They targeted Steven Sims a bunch

Want another example of O'Connell's influence over the gameplan? Look no further than how much Sims was involved.

Overall, Sims was targeted 11 times, and while he only hauled in five of those passes, he's a guy worth looking to often. O'Connell has talked for weeks now about how much he wants to use Sims, and while it may sound odd to say that an undrafted receiver from Kansas deserves lots of chances on a unit that includes McLaurin and Peterson, it's true.

He's really difficult for defensive backs to stay in front of and he's shown a penchant for making some tremendous grabs, including his toe-tapper for his first career receiving TD on Sunday.  

"I'm seeing everything and I'm playing faster," Sims said in the locker room. 

O'Connell and Haskins are seeing him, too, and his larger role is giving Haskins another weapon to rely on.

They introduced a creative option play

In addition to the uptick in aggressiveness, the Redskins also were more creative against the Eagles than they had been lately. The best example of that is the option they introduced and executed perfectly on two separate snaps.

On the first option, Haskins fake-tossed it to Peterson before lateraling it to him a second later. The fake from Haskins was a nifty way to buy more time for the play to develop and it set Peterson up to pick up a first down:

They went back to it again in the third quarter, but this time, Haskins kept the ball and cut upfield for a 23-yard gain:

Watch any NFL game on any weekend, and you'll see offenses trying new concepts and surprising defenses with those concepts. In Week 15, the Redskins were finally one of those offenses, and the group as a whole was the most effective its been under Haskins. And for that, both the player and the staff should be recognized.

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Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

Mark Lerner reflects on Bryce Harper’s departure in free agency

The entire Donald Dell interview with Mark Lerner can be seen Tuesday, December 17, at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

For seven seasons, the Nationals and Bryce Harper enjoyed a happy marriage that included four NL East division titles, an MVP award and the respect from the rest of the league as legitimate playoff contenders year in and year out.

But principal managing owner Mark Lerner knew their relationship might not last forever. In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell, Lerner talked about how the team balanced making a business decision with the personal side of hoping to extend Harper when he hit free agency last offseason.

“We all like Bryce but at the end of the day, there’s the economic factor, there’s other factors that come into it: clubhouse, interaction with teammates, everything you could imagine in a decision about a free agent,” Lerner said.

Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which at the time was the record for the most expensive contract in MLB history. The Nationals reportedly made him an offer for 10 years and $300 million that included $100 million in deferrals at the end of the 2018 season.

“He [was] a free agent for a reason, he earned that right,” Lerner said. “It’s his decision and his family’s decision where they play. And he chose to move on. He obviously got an incredible offer.

“Everybody seems to forget it’s not just a bidding war to get the players, the player has to want to play here and sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”

By the time Harper signed with Philadelphia in early March, the Nationals had already reported to Spring Training with starter Patrick Corbin signed to a six-year, $140 million deal as well as a slew of new faces on the roster that had joined the club through free agency. Lerner said Washington never heard back from Harper and didn’t want to wait for him to make a decision.

“We were moving down a different path at that point anyhow,” Lerner said. “Because, as you may recall, Bryce had not given us a response through his agent Scott Boras and we had decisions we had to make so we didn’t get caught waiting too long for him to find out we can’t get other players to replace him.

“And our choice at that point in time was either wait for him or we had the opportunity to sign Patrick Corbin. And we chose to sign Patrick Corbin and get another great starter, which has worked out great, and it was really more us at that point to say, ‘We have to move on.’”

The Nationals went on to win the World Series in 2019 while Harper posted an .882 OPS with 35 home runs in 157 games for the 81-81 Phillies. But as division rivals, Harper and the Nationals will see each other plenty over the next 12 years he’s locked into Philadelphia.

Only time will tell which side ends up wondering what could’ve been.

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