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No panic here: How Scott Brooks, Jay Gruden stay calm amid turmoil

No panic here: How Scott Brooks, Jay Gruden stay calm amid turmoil

Scott Brooks and Jay Gruden are both disciples of the "practice patience" philosophy. The current situations with the Wizards and Redskins put the approach for both head coaches to the test.

Win or lose, joy or stress, Gruden tries “to be as even-keeled as I can be.” That mindset helped the Redskins coach guide his team to a surprising 5-2 start this season. Now injuries may upend the NFC East leaders’ but Gruden maintained calm at Monday's press conference despite the reveal of three more season-ending surgeries and a what-went-wrong talk after Sunday’s 24-point loss.

Brooks’ new season began far more stressful. The Wizards opened losing seven of eight games. Sunday’s 108-95 home win over the New York Knicks stopped a five-game slide and provided a (brief) exhale moment. 

Washington remains last in scoring defense and rebound differential among other statistical eyesores. The backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal have yet to play at a consistent All-Star level. Otto Porter’s injured and before that his production wasn’t quite the level the team needed. Integrating Dwight Howard shows promise, but recent history with the center suggests everyone should hang on tight. The win over the Knicks included warning signs like being tied in the fourth quarter with the Knicks.

But like Gruden, he hasn’t often appeared - at least publicly - rattled. 

Brooks did show rare frustration just two games into the season. He was ejected during the fourth quarter of an eventual loss to the Raptors, and then called out Porter postgame for what seemed like minor hustle infractions if they occurred at all. These actions stood out because Brooks rarely loses his cool or openly criticizes players. 

“It was a combination of a lot of things that I saw and then the frustration built up,” Brooks said of the ejection. He continued. “Quite honestly, I set a poor example. I’m disappointed in myself.”

The explanation didn’t come across as a standard mea culpa after an unwanted public display. That poor example was outside the norm usual behavior for him. Brooks quickly returned to regularly scheduled programming of preaching team unity and staying calm even as concerns mounted.

“I think you have to stay pretty level,” he said after the Wizards returned home following a 1-4 road trip. “I know early in my career I was up and down. I play one night, play well and feel good. The next night I play bad and I feel bad. My wife didn’t want to be around me. So, early in my career, I decided, ‘You know what, I’m going to give everything I have to the team, everything I have to the court, and live with the results, and stay the same off the court.’ I think that helped me as a player and helped me as a coach. Do your best, and everything else takes care of it.”

Gruden has experienced his share of irritating moments on the field. Growing up around the sport as the son of a former assistant coach helped Gruden grasp the competitive and business nature of the professional world. Over his life and career, he said he discovered existing in a constant state of agitation wouldn’t work for him.

“There are times when I’ve gotten a little hot-headed. I think [remaining level] carries more weight,” Gruden told The Sports Capitol [editor’s note: where the author wrote before coming to NBC Sports Washington] before the 2018 season kicked off. “If you get hot-headed every day I think people start yawning at you. Oh, [now] he's serious. I try to weather the storm, try to be as positive as I can be and understand that in pro football you’re going to have your ups and downs. That’s just the way it’s going to be. You have to overcome adversity.”

Adversity struck the Redskins Monday, one day after a 38-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Washington learned both starting guards, including Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff, and wide receiver Paul Richardson would undergo season-ending surgery. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams remains sidelined with a thumb injury. The running backs and wide receivers spend more time with the training staff than the coaches this season. These ailments come after a laundry list of injuries wrecked the 2017 season. 

Gruden didn’t let the past or new worries alter his approach. 

“I think the best teams in pro football over time are those that overcome adversity,” he said in September. “Whether it’s losing a game, losing a quarter, turnovers, people to injury. The teams that are the most resilient are the best. I think you have to keep a calm head and a cool demeanor in those situations in order for the guys to overcome it.”

Brooks dealt with a 2-8 start to the 2016-17 season, his first with Washington. The similarities between then and now are mainly in the record only. That earlier squad played with a spark from the jump. It took time to find a rhythm under the new coach and overcome inadequate play from the second unit. These Wizards appeared disinterested during some blowout losses and disjointed defensively. The Knicks were the first opponent Washington held under 100 points in nine games.

Brooks didn’t cave to the losing or outside noise even after a disheartening 135-111 home setback Friday against the Thunder on national television immediately following the rough road trip. “We just have to stick together, we have to keep playing for one another,” Brooks said

One day prior he explained his mental approach.

“It’s a long season. ... It’s mental toughness that you have to have in order to fight through it," he said. "When you have a tough start like we had, it also tests you. … We have a lot of new faces we’re trying to integrate to be one team. It’s going to take some time, but I’m still comfortable, and still excited with what we have. We started like this a couple of years ago. … We took 32 games before we got to .500, and we won 49 games that year.”

There are chemistry concerns with the Wizards that lead some to discount a 2016—17 repeat, though many would agree it fair to withhold judgment until Howard plays a dozen games or the team reaches the 25-game mark. 

The Redskins turned some doubters into believers during a defense-led three-game winning streak. Sunday’s one-sided game against the Falcons slowed momentum. We may discover in the coming weeks that offensive line injuries derailed another season. 

Whatever happens, don’t expect significant mood swings from the patient head coaches. When it comes to acting like loons, Brooks and Gruden are out of practice.   

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Report: Brandon Scherff and Redskins 'far apart' on contract negotiations

Report: Brandon Scherff and Redskins 'far apart' on contract negotiations

Besides the quarterback competition between Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins, one of the biggest storylines from Redskins training camp will be whether the team and Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff can agree on a contract extension before the start of the 2019 season.

On Monday, a report came out from 106.7 The Fan's Erin Hawksworth that Scherff has been offered multiple contract extensions from the Redskins, but "the two sides are far apart."

Scherff is entering the 2019 season on the last year of his rookie deal and set to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end. 

The fifth-year guard will make a base salary of $12.5 million in 2019 after the Redskins picked up his fifth-year option a year ago as part of his rookie deal.

Should Scherff hit the open market, he will be a hot commodity. 

He may not receive a contract as big as Cowboys' guard Zack Martin did, but expect him to command close to top-market money. Martin received a six-year, $84 million deal in 2018 with $40 million guaranteed. A contract extension for Scherff could look something like the five-year, $66.5 million deal Jaguars' guard Andrew Norwell signed in 2018. 

Besides tackle Trent Williams, Scherff is without a doubt the most important piece to the Redskins offensive line. With Williams currently holding out, Scherff's presence on the offensive line is even more important.

Scherff missed eight games a season ago with a torn pectoral muscle, and his absence was very visible.

One thing is for certain: if the Redskins are not willing to pay Scherff top-market money, barring something unexpected, he will certainly get it somewhere else. And no Redskins fan wants that.


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Five takeaways from the Redskins' Madden 20 ratings

Five takeaways from the Redskins' Madden 20 ratings

With the release of EA Sports' Madden NFL 20 just a few weeks away, the game released their individual player ratings on Monday.

Madden ratings are usually a controversy-provoking topic. Each year, there are a lot more players disappointed with their initial Madden rating than those pleased with theirs.

This year was no different. Some players, such as Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, have said they will boycott the game after being so upset with their rating.

The game unleashed a new rating system this year, which is intended to reward star players and have them feel different than just an above average player.

So how did Madden rate the Redskins?

The Burgundy and Gold come in at the 16th best overall team in the game, despite only having one individual player rated 90 overall or higher.

Two of the Redskins' NFC East foes, the Philadelphia Cowboys and Dallas Cowboys, were the No. 1 and No. 2 overall rated teams in the game, respectively. The Eagles boast a rating of 89, and the Cowboys come in at an 88 overall.

The New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers were all the next highest with an 87 overall.

Here are five takeaways from the Redskins' Madden NFL 20 ratings.

1. Left tackle Trent Williams was rated a 95 overall, the second-highest rated left tackle in the game.

Williams' rating of a 95 is very deserved. He's consistently been the best player on the Redskins from year-to-year, and one of the best offensive lineman in the league. Madden has recognized Williams' importance to the Redskins as well as his overall skill; only the Packers' David Bakhtiari (97) had a higher rating at his position.

The Redskins' Silverback was the third-highest rated offensive lineman in the game, with Bakhtiari and Cowboys' guard Zack Martin ahead of him. He's the only Redskins player to receive an overall rating of a 90 or higher.

Williams has been a key offseason storyline for the Redskins, as he was absent from Redskins' mandatory mini-camp in June. His absence was at first rumored to him wanting a new contract, but reports came out later that he was upset with the team's handling of his medical situation from a season ago. It is unclear whether Williams will report to training camp, which begins July 25.

If the Madden ratings are any indication, Williams is as important to the Redskins as anyone. The Redskins need him on the field.

2. Case Keenum and Dwayne Haskins have been rated just one number apart.

The main storyline throughout Redskins' training camp and the preseason will be the quarterback competition between veteran Case Keenum and rookie Dwayne Haskins. If the Madden ratings prove to be true, it's going to be a very close battle.

Keenum's initial Madden rating comes in at a 73 overall, while Haskins is a 72. In terms of specific ratings, Keenum slightly edges Haskins out in awareness (80 to 75) and speed (79 to 75), but Haskins has the edge in acceleration (83 to 82), agility (83 to 73) and strength (70 to 51). 

Of course, Keenum's ratings are based off his performance last season with the Denver Broncos, while Haskins' ratings are a rough estimate because he's a rookie. It's likely that both players could have a very different rating at the end of the season than they do now.

3. The Redskins have three defensive linemen all rated around the same number. 

The defensive line unit is probably the strongest position group on the Redskins and the Madden ratings agree with that.

Defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and Daron Payne received an 83 overall rating, while Jonathan Allen received an 82 overall grade.

While all three had productive seasons in 2018, it is worth wondering how Allen is not the highest rated of the three.

In his second season, Allen finished second on the team in sacks (8.0) and tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (11). Out of the three, Allen had the most overall tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits.

While the Redskins expect Allen, Ioannidis and Payne all to have a major impact in 2019, don't be surprised if Allen has the highest overall rating of the three at the end of the year.

4. The Redskins' big free agent signing, safety Landon Collins, was rated a low 83 overall.

This number at first glance seems very low. In his four seasons in the NFL, Collins has made the Pro Bowl three times and first-team All-Pro once. 

But Madden has a whopping 10 free safeties rated higher than him. Recently acquired New York Giants safety Jabrill Peppers has a higher rating than Collins, and anyone who's watched the two players over the past couple years knows that's questionable. 

A season ago, Collins was rated an 88 overall. Missing four games with a shoulder injury could be a partial reason for his dip, but the 25-year-old is still one of the elite safeties in the league. An 83 overall does not reflect that.

5. Haskins is the second-highest rated rookie QB in the game, while Giants' Daniel Jones is, uh, low.

While a 72 overall rating would not be flattering to anyone, Haskins has to be pleased being the second-highest rated rookie quarterback, only behind No.1 overall pick and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.

Overall, the rookie ratings are a lot lower in Madden 20 than they were in Madden 19. A year ago, five rookie quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen) started with a higher rating than Murray, who enters the game as a 73 overall.

When looking at the rookie quarterback class, perhaps the most surprising ranking has to be the Giants' Daniel Jones, who enters the game at a 63 overall.

In years past, a 63 overall would be given to a fringe roster player, not a top-ten first-round pick. For reference, Redskins' seventh-round pick Jimmy Moreland enters the game at a 64 overall. 

To put it into perspective, the next lowest top-ten pick was Denver's Devin Bush, who checked in at a 72. The Giants have seven rookies with a higher Madden rating.

Jones' low rating is in unprecedented territory for a top-ten pick, let alone a first-round pick.

The beauty of Madden ratings is that they change. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was a 77 entering the 2019 season.

A year later, he's a 97 overall, and arguably the biggest snub from the 99 overall club. While many players may be upset with their rating, they have the ability to let their play do the talking.