Redskins

Orange Bowl ends difficult season for FSU's Manuel

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Orange Bowl ends difficult season for FSU's Manuel

MIAMI (AP) When quarterback EJ Manuel takes the Orange Bowl field Tuesday for his final game at Florida State, his mother will be home in Virginia, recovering from her final round of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.

The turn of the calendar marks the end of an emotional year for the family. Jackie Manuel was diagnosed shortly before the season, and for EJ, trying to win games became a welcome diversion rather than his primary concern.

More than ever, football also became something to celebrate. Many of EJ's relatives - his mom included - will gather at his grandmother's house in Virginia Beach to whoop it up as they watch the No. 13-ranked Seminoles play No. 16 Northern Illinois.

And for a few hours, at least, he'll try not to worry about his mother.

``I'll be locked in on my last game as a collegiate player,'' Manuel said. ``My mom wants that. This is what you work for. I'm not going to allow our team to fall short.''

The Seminoles (11-2) have followed Manuel's lead all season. He endured his worst game last month against Florida, committing four turnovers in a 37-26 loss. He reached the end zone only once in the Seminoles' other defeat, a 17-16 loss to North Carolina State. But in Florida State's victories, he threw 20 touchdown passes with only six interceptions.

The Florida game took place on Parents' Day in Tallahassee, and Jackie Manuel made the 12-hour drive to attend. Watching Mom and Dad walk onto the field before the game, EJ was overcome with emotion.

``For her to come down and support me for my last home game at Florida State meant the world to me,'' he said. ``That's why I couldn't really hold back. I was definitely tearing up. I was like, `EJ, stop crying.' But I couldn't hold it back.''

He declined to blame the heart-tugging occasion for the way he played, however.

``It just happened to be one of those days,'' he said.

Regardless, Manuel won admiration from his teammates and coaches for the way he has performed this season.

``It has been a tough year for him,'' offensive coordinator James Coley said. ``Whenever you see someone near and dear to you struggling with an illness, especially at a young age, it's tough. But he persevered through it.''

In more ways than one, this has not been the senior year Manuel anticipated. The Seminoles expected to wind up in Miami, but in the BCS championship game on Jan. 7, not in the Orange Bowl against a Northern Illinois team derided by some as an unworthy opponent.

However, Manuel said he's happy with his season. After all, he threw for 3,101 yards to lead an offense that averaged 7.01 yards per play, which tied for first in the nation. He helped the Seminoles earn their first BCS bowl berth in seven years.

``I wish we could have been here a week later for the national championship,'' Manuel said. ``But it didn't work out that way. We won our conference and had a great season, and I'm proud of the things I've accomplished here at Florida State.''

Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar, who has 8 1/2 sacks this season, said the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Manuel will challenge the Huskies like no other quarterback they've faced.

``He'll definitely be the best, just because of everything he can do, throwing and running,'' Progar said. ``He's a big guy. He's not going to go down lightly. He's going to look to throw first, but he will scramble, and he's good at it.''

Manuel has a chance to become only the second quarterback to go 4-0 in bowl games, joining West Virginia's Pat White. A year ago he led Florida State to an 18-14 victory in the Champs Bowl over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who haven't lost since. He ranks third among Seminoles QBs with 24 career victories.

``His legacy will be that he's a winner,'' Coley said. ``He's a competitor, he's a fighter, and his teammates love the guy. They'll run through a wall for him.''

They also respect the way he has coped with his mom's illness. Only recently did he begin to discuss the matter publicly, and he has done so with grace and candor.

``He's a guy you want to be like,'' receiver Rodney Smith said.

Manuel and his family are encouraged about the prognosis for his mother, who turned 49 Thursday. She has responded well to chemotherapy and will undergo surgery in about a month.

``Once something like this happens to somebody you're close to, it hits home,'' Manuel said. ``It opened my eyes to a lot of things. But she's doing well. That is the thing that has helped me out the most.''

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The Redskins need these three to be at their best in Week 2 against the Cowboys

The Redskins need these three to be at their best in Week 2 against the Cowboys

Come about four o'clock on Sunday afternoon, the Redskins and their fans will either be feeling quite good with a 1-1 record or the exact opposite of quite good thanks to an 0-2 start.

Washington will of course need Case Keenum to try and come close to replicating what he did in the opener against the Eagles and could really use a vintage Adrian Peterson Performance. 

Beyond them, though, who needs to be on point for the Redskins? These three absolutely qualify.

Ryan Kerrigan

The Burgundy and Gold's defensive line is down two players already and will be relying upon a couple of guys who basically just arrived. They may have trouble generating pressure up the middle thanks to that, meaning Kerrigan better be ready to do so on the edge.

If the home team allows Dak Prescott to stand in the pocket and pat the ball like Carson Wentz did in Week 1, then it'll be another long day for the entire unit. But if Kerrigan, who plays especially well against division foes, can be a constant threat to Prescott, then that'll make a big difference.

In 2018, Kerrigan forced a game-changing fumble at FedEx Field when facing Dallas. Hopefully he can follow that up with another productive outing this year.

Paul Richardson

Richardson had a fine stat line versus the Eagles, but he did have one drive-killing drop and didn't come up with any of the deep catches he's being counted on to create. Terry McLaurin was clearly the star of the receiving corps, while Richardson played more of a supporting role.

Now, perhaps McLaurin will shine again. Even if he does, Jay Gruden would still love for Richardson to also contribute with a splash play or two. Keenum showed he's willing to take chances downfield, so Richardson will need to use his speed and give Keenum a target for those chances.

The Redskins' most obvious path to a win Sunday will be to pound the ball with Peterson and control the clock as best as they can. That said, if Richardson can flip the field and help the offense score quickly instead of trying to string together 10-play drives, that'll make an upset more likely.

Greg Manusky

Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, after just one game in the role, is drawing comparisons to Sean McVay. He brings his offense loaded with playmakers to Landover for Week 2, and will be squaring off with Manusky's group. It's on Manusky to match Moore.

Manusky had a tumultuous offseason and the defense's Week 1 showing in Philadelphia didn't do much to improve his standing as defensive coordinator. And as mentioned earlier, he'll be rolling out a D-line that's missing some major talent as well as a secondary that has injury issues as well.

Those won't be viable excuses for another game in which his players can't get off the field on third downs or force any turnovers, though. His defenders simply have to play better, sure, but he's going to have to put them in positions to succeed as well, or else he'll be scrutinized even more. 

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Yan Gomes’ workload will continue to increase for the Nationals

Yan Gomes’ workload will continue to increase for the Nationals

WASHINGTON -- Friday afternoon grousing centered on what time the plane arrived. The Nationals’ charter returned to Dulles International Airport around 6 a.m. From there, players and staff scurried to their houses, some being caught in the morning commute.

Yan Gomes made it home in about 27 minutes. He needed to get to sleep. Friday night he would be catching his seventh consecutive game, a grind he had been through other times in his career, but complicated Friday by the late (or early) landing following a pre-dawn departure from Minneapolis.

Gomes figures he was asleep by 6:45 a.m., roughly 15-20 minutes after he walked through the door of his home. He woke up around 12:30 p.m. Then, he took the step so many do after first arising: the coffee was brewed, prompting midday to act as morning. Next was arriving at the park, where food and hydration were the priorities. Gomes, 32, needed to prepare his body for baseball’s hardest position and his brain for Max Scherzer’s outing.

“I don’t think people realize how much adrenaline we’re using [Friday],” Gomes said. “Just try to get through today. But the main thing is nobody is feeling bad for us we had a late night. Everyone’s kind of doing that. Scheduling this year has been kind of weird.”

Gomes crouching behind the plate again Friday was running him into an uncommon level of usage during his eight-year career -- and a level of work which is going to continue. Gomes, even when the primary catcher in Cleveland, caught seven or more games in a row (and never more than eight) six times. He had not handled such a stretch since 2016. Only once did such a streak occur in September, and that happened in 2014, Gomes’ second full season in the league.

“I’ve done scheduling like this before where I’ve had to catch night and day games a lot of times,” Gomes said. “I think when you get a certain age, you just have to pay more attention with the pregame stuff, postgame stuff. Body doesn’t recover as well. It’s one of those things where got to sack up and use some caffeine to get you through the day [Friday]. Drink as much as you can, as much as you can tolerate. Everyone’s tired. You just got to make sure you’re loose and ready to go so injuries don’t happen.”

Saturday he received a break. Rookie Raudy Read caught Austin Voth. However, the respite will be temporary.

Kurt Suzuki still has not thrown a baseball since injuring his right elbow Sept. 6. Inflammation continues to be an issue. He swung a bat in the batting cage Friday. Saturday, Suzuki pulled on his catching gear and went to the bullpen to practice blocking balls with bullpen coach Henry Blanco. Sprints followed. Throwing did not.

“Said he felt OK,” Davey Martinez said. “If he continues to do that, try to get him to hit on the field by early next week and we'll go from there. We miss him. We hope we can get him back soon. He's doing everything he can to try to get ready and play again as soon as possible.”

Read and Tres Barrera -- both rookies -- now comprise the backup catchers. The good news for Gomes is his prior experience as the full-time catcher and that he split time much of this season. Suzuki and Gomes were running close to a clean workload split before Suzuki’s injury. Gomes caught 71 games, Suzuki 68. So, he’s done this before and received rest earlier this season to position him well to do it again.

And, a hard decision was going to come in the postseason for Martinez. Suzuki’s offense is a clear plus over Gomes. However, his ability to throw out baserunners is almost non-existent this season, when Suzuki has thrown out five of 50 base-stealers. The 10 percent caught stealing rate is the lowest of his career and well below the 23 percent average during his 13 seasons in the major leagues. Those numbers are also influenced by pitchers, situations and official scorer rulings. However, Suzuki’s 10 percent is a stunningly low number and directly reflective of his struggles.

Martinez previously said an MRI of Suzuki’s elbow showed no structural damage. Inflammation remains the issue. Resolution of the inflammation remains tricky.

“Listening to the medical staff and listening to him, the biggest thing is getting the inflammation out of his elbow,” Martinez said. “Then we'll see how far we can push him to get him ready. But a lot is going to be determined on him, what he feels and how he feels.”

Washington’s system is without a top-tier catching prospect. Read is considered more of a hitter. He could well become a first baseman in the future. Barrera played this season at Double-A Harrisburg. He was a sixth-round pick in 2016. A preseason list of the organization’s top 30 prospects placed Barrera 18th despite turning 25 years old on Sunday.

The complication of limited options popped up Saturday. Washington put two runners with one out. Read was due up. The situation was primed for Suzuki to pinch-hit, then take over as catcher, if he was able. Or even giving Gomes a chance -- if he hadn’t caught for seven consecutive days. Read hit for himself and grounded into a double play.

The final month’s workload rests with Gomes. Of the 15 remaining games, he will likely catch up to 14 if Suzuki remains injured. There is one built-in off-day. A split day-night doubleheader against Philadelphia will require Read to make another appearance. Otherwise, it’s time to sleep, eat, stay hydrated and ride it out.

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