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Rams' turnover slump at 5 games

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Rams' turnover slump at 5 games

ST. LOUIS (AP) An errant pass bounced off hands of the New York Jets' Joe McKnight on the sideline, tantalizingly soaring just out of the reach of St. Louis Rams safety Quintin Mikell and an easy touchdown return.

In the opening series of last week's loss, Mikell stripped Mark Sanchez, and the ball bounced right back into the quarterback's hands.

Those are just two of the latest frustrations for St. Louis, which hasn't forced a turnover the last five games - tied for the NFL's worst since 1950. Given turnovers are such momentum changers, it should come as no surprise that the Rams (3-6-1) are 0-4-1 during that stretch.

``We're stripping, the ball's flying around, it'll just happen,'' coach Jeff Fisher said. ``But I don't think I've been in a stretch before that long.''

In the last 62 years, only the Rams, the 2011 Indianapolis Colts and 2006 Washington Redskins have gone five games without a takeaway. They'll try to avoid setting a dubious record on Sunday at Arizona, which lost a fumble in Week 5 for the Rams' last turnover.

If they're tired of hearing about it, players realize it's on them. Take the ball away and it'll take the topic out of play.

``We've got to do something about it. You never get tired of preaching turnovers, that's one of the key factors in wins and losses,'' linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. ``I never get tired of taking about it, and I hope the guys don't get tired of it.

``We're getting them out, we're just not recovering them.''

After the first five games, the Rams had eight interceptions and a fumble recovery. They've had no takeaways since Week 5 when Robert Quinn forced a fumble that was recovered by fellow defensive end William Hayes in a 17-3 victory over the Cardinals, the team they'll be playing this week at Arizona.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan had three interceptions the first three games, and has none since. Of course, teams learned early to pick on rookie Janoris Jenkins, instead.

``If you try to do too much, you hurt the team,'' Finnegan said. ``Turnovers are something you want to overemphasize in practice, but you never want to get out of your element in a game.''

The Jets fumbled twice without losing it last week, and the 49ers recovered all four fumbles a week earlier. Meanwhile, the Rams' turnovers were costly.

The Jets' Bart Scott had a 38-yard fumble return to set up the go-ahead touchdown after Muhammad Wilkerson stripped Sam Bradford. Rookie Daryl Richardson's lost fumble led to another touchdown that put New York up 27-7 midway through the fourth quarter.

``You win games when you turn it over,'' Fisher said. ``They strip-sack and they pick it up and run it 50 yards. We strip-sack and it falls on Sanchez's lap.''

It's not all just about the bounces, because sometimes there aren't any. In Weeks 7 and 8, the Packers and Patriots had no fumbles.

``Part of it's luck and part of it's creating your own luck and part of it's what we emphasize, and we've been emphasizing it a lot,'' defensive end Chris Long said.

What doesn't need to get emphasized, Long adds, is the streak itself.

``We can't get caught up in thinking, `Oh, this has been the longest streak or `Man, it's been this many weeks,'' Long said. ``Our opportunity is Sunday to get the ball out, so these past weeks are non-existent.''

There's enough pressure Sunday, given the Cardinals forced six turnovers last week in a 4-point loss at Atlanta.

Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis is still disappointed that in the first meeting against Arizona, Kevin Kolb threw 50 passes with no interceptions. On Sunday, they'll be trying to take it away from a team led by a rookie making his starting debut, Ryan Lindley.

``Turnovers really come into play, and we know firsthand that their defense is a ball-hawking defense,'' Laurinaitis said.

Though they're 0-4-1 during the turnover blackout, it could have been worse. They had just one turnover in a tie at San Francisco, one again while pressing the Packers in a 10-point loss and one in a 3-point loss at Miami that boiled down to special teams meltdowns.

``It's not like we're turning the ball over five or six times a game,'' Fisher said. ``We're just not getting the takeaways to get the extra drives.''

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

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Wizards GM reset: Blazers' Neil Olshey, Warriors exec potential targets?

The Washington Wizards remain without a President of Basketball Operations since firing Ernie Grunfeld April 2. While several candidates met with owner Ted Leonsis, including Denver’s Tim Connelly, the pursuit continues though largely in silence.

The vibe coming out of the organization is that of patience even with the fan base growing restless as the June 20 NBA Draft looms and prospect workouts starting a week or so out.

There have been no reports of candidate interviews since Washington met over the weekend with Connelly. Speculation and logic have the Wizards considering candidates beyond the previously reported group already brought in for interviews.

We can connect some dots and land on one executive whose team is still in the playoffs: Golden State assistant general manager Larry Harris.

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations, the architect behind the Portland squad that reached the 2019 Western Conference Finals.

Before we explain both scenarios, one more thought on Connelly specifically the pursuit and big swing.

While Connelly wasn’t the first candidate meeting, it’s clear the Wizards waited for him. The 54-win Nuggets were eliminated from the second round of the playoffs May 12. Connelly flew to Washington for a meeting with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis five days later.

The Baltimore native sincerely weighed a contract offer from the Wizards before choosing to remain in Denver, sources told NBC Sports Washington.

The Wizards previously interviewed former Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver and Wizards interim front office leader Tommy Sheppard.

While all three are considered credible candidates, none is an active GM or team president. None represents a big swing, the kind Leonsis hinted he would pursue in his first comments after dismissing Grunfeld.

“One thing I will say: I think this is the best job in sports,” Leonsis said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any issues in attracting really, really great people.”

Olshey, 54, began running Portland’s front office in June of 2012. Over the next 12 months, he drafted guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and hired head coach Terry Stotts. The quartet created the culture that fueled the current streak of six consecutive playoff appearances.

The 53-win Blazers advanced to the franchise’s first WCF appearance since 2000 before losing the series to Golden State 4-0.

It's uncertain the level of pursuit for Olshey from Washington, but the Wizards could face another uphill climb trying to lure the proven executive considering the similar contractual and team success to Connelly's situation. 

The general interest in Olshey began several weeks back, but the Wizards had yet to ask the Blazers for permission to interview Olshey as of Wednesday according to a source. Portland's season ended Monday with the Game 4 loss to Golden State. 

Olshey agreed to an extension in 2017 that carries his contract through the 2020-21 season. Sources believe he is open to considering other options including Washington after seven years with the Blazers.

Reporting from Portland has the franchise likely to be sold following the 2018 passing of team owner Paul Allen. 

Lillard received All-NBA honors Thursday and with it a supermax extension for four-years, $191 million dollars. If offered and signed, the contract would put constraints on Portland's salary cap structure.

As for Harris, the former Bucks GM joined the Warriors in 2008 as an assistant coach before eventually moving into the front office. He was named assistant GM in 2016.

ESPN reported Harris interviewed for the Pelicans opening in April before the NBA Playoffs began.

Note the familiar names. Gersson Rosas, who subsequently became the Timberwolves President, also interviewed with the Wizards.

The connection with the Wizards and Pelicans is Mike Forde, an outside consultant who helped both teams during their respective searches.

It’s no leap imagining Forde pushing the Wizards to meet with an executive who just spent the past five years in the NBA Finals (The Bucks never finished above .500 in five seasons with Harris, however). Waiting could mean until after Game 4 of the NBA Finals (June 7). Going the full seven games means June 16.

Another front office headliner still in the postseason is Toronto’s Masai Ujiri. NBC Sports Washington previously reported Ujiri showed interest in Washington. Expectations of high salary demands and compensation from the Raptors for their President of Basketball Operations stunted any serious movement, according to a source.

For now, Sheppard runs the show. He led the Wizards’ contingent at last week’s NBA Combine in Chicago. As for Ferry or Weaver, as of Wednesday it was considered unlikely either heard from Washington since the organization ramped up the pursuit of Connelly or learned of the Denver executive's decision, according to sources familiar with the situation.

 For now, all anyone on the outside can do is wait patiently just like the organization and see which name bubbles up next.

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

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'I started to realize that I’m not broken': Steve Smith opens up about mental health and depression

Former Carolina Panthers' star receiver Steve Smith spoke in front of a crowd of over 400 people at the fifth annual Wake up for Wellness breakfast that was sponsored by Mental Health America of Central Carolinas.

The 16-year veteran and current NFL Network analyst touched on the importance of seeking help for bouts with depression and spoke of battles that he has faced with the disease.

“On the outside you’ll see a tough exterior. But on the inside, I’m just broken or I believe even more broken than the average man. ... Because when the stadium goes dark and the cheers stop, you’re still looking for that pat on the back,” Smith said. “Throughout my whole career, I struggled with that.”

Smith discussed that in the beginning, he was so concerned about the stigma regarding mental health, that he opted for the professional to meet him for housecalls, and as time passed he realized the importance of speaking up.

“I started to realize that I’m not broken,” he said. “I’m not being sent back to the manufacturer ... I get up every morning and figure it out.”

Smith's comments on the issue came to light just a day after the NFL and NFLPA announced new legislation that focuses on mental well being.

The newly formed Comprehensive Mental Health and Wellness Committee will develop programs for members of the NFL in addition to collaborating with local and national mental health and suicide prevention organizations. Each team will be mandated to retain a Behavioral Health Team Clinician for assistance that will be required to be available to players at the individual team facilities for at least 8-12 hours per week and must conduct mandatory mental health education sessions for players and coaching staff.

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