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Richardson, Morris renew rivalry in NFL

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Richardson, Morris renew rivalry in NFL

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Trent Richardson remembers Redskins running back Alfred Morris with long hair and one of his teammates stupidly yanking on it before a game.

``He got so hot and everyone was so scared of him,'' Richardson said. ``Nobody would touch him. He was a big guy. He was the biggest dude out there.''

Morris, too, can picture Richardson a bigger-than-average kid, years before he started carrying the ball for the Browns.

``He had calves of a grown man,'' Morris said.

The two rookies, who began their football careers bashing their way to stardom on sandlots in their hometown of Pensacola, Fla., - a football talent hotbed - took dissimilar paths to the NFL. But they'll cross paths again and renew their rivalry Sunday when the Browns (5-8) host the Redskins (7-6).

Richardson was expected to have an immediate impact on the Browns, and despite playing for weeks with a rib injury that won't be fully healed until the offseason, the No. 3 overall pick in this year's draft has lived up to projections. He's rushed for 869 yards and matched the team rookie record with nine rushing touchdowns, a mark he shares with Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who caused a controversy when he called Richardson ``ordinary'' after the Browns selected him.

Richardson has been special.

Morris has been even better for the Redskins.

The sixth-round pick (No. 173 overall) from Florida Atlantic enters this week's game with 1,228 yards and seven scores. Morris is fourth among the league's top rushers and he's the latest in a long line of young backs to thrive under Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who had four rookies top 1,000 yards rushing in Denver.

Shanahan's system has helped Morris, but the humble 24-year-old has earned every yard through hard work and dedication - values he developed in Pensacola, also the home of career rushing leader Emmitt Smith.

Morris arrived at Redskins camp driving a 1991 Mazda, and although he can now afford to replace the car with 125,000 miles on the odometer, Morris has no intention of splurging. And when he visits his parents' home, he usually stays on the couch.

``I actually like the couch,'' he said. ``It's pretty comfortable.''

He's equally relaxed in the same backfield with dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III, giving the Redskins an offense that's become one of the league's most potent attacks.

Morris is outshining Richardson, but he's not gloating about any statistical advantage over his longtime peer.

``That's not a pride thing,'' he said. ``We're in two totally different situations, two different divisions. I don't take pride in having more rushing yards. I really don't even think about it. I'm just happy that he's doing good and that I'm doing good and just to make it this far coming from where we came from is just an accomplishment in itself.''

There are currently more than one dozen players from the Pensacola area on rosters throughout the league. Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin attended the same high school as Richardson, who was raised by his mother and knew at an early age he wanted to provide for his family.

``People are just really hungry and want to better their lives and want better for their family,'' Richardson said. ``Growing up, I always wanted to make sure my mama didn't have to work again. My mama was working two or three jobs when I was growing up. Seeing my grandma work and care for us, it was nothing but more motivation for me. Pensacola, it's a place where you can feel like, `I'm glad I'm from here because it made me.'

``It pushed me to strive for much that I want in life.''

Morris' success may be surprising to those who didn't see him run over other players for years. Richardson has been watching the 5-foot-10, 218-pounder cause destruction inside the hash marks for most of his life.

``We've always been rivals,'' he said. ``He was the reason why I never made the (high school) playoffs. Then his little brother Shawn was the next reason. I've been playing against Alfred my whole life and him and his little brother have been on the same team. They were the reason why I didn't make it to the playoffs.''

That could happen again.

The Browns are a longshot to make the AFC playoffs, and need to win their final three games to have any chance at the postseason. Cleveland's defense will have to contain Griffin, assuming he plays, along with Morris, who needs 288 yards to surpass Clinton Portis' team single-season rushing record.

Morris didn't have records in mind when he was drafted. His only objective was to win a job with Washington.

``I wasn't guaranteed a spot on this team, so I had to bust my butt in camp,'' he said. ``My goal was to make the team. And, after that, the opportunity will come and when it does come make the most of it.''

He's done that.

There were skeptics who doubted Morris could play at the game's highest level. They looked at his size and college and wondered.

They should have talked to Richardson.

``He didn't get that much recognition because of the school he was at,'' Richardson said. ``They didn't get seen a lot. But Alfred has always been a baller to me and he's always had a nose for the end zone.

``He's always been a baller to me.''

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NOTES: Browns coach Pat Shurmur believes Shanahan will commit to one quarterback Sunday and won't rotate Griffin with rookie Kirk Cousins, who came off the bench last week when Griffin sprained his right knee. ... Sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s allowed the Browns to practice outside for the second straight day. ... Richardson wasn't upset he only averaged 2.3 yards in last week's win over Kansas City. ``It doesn't bug me because we won,'' he said. ``If we didn't win, it would bug the mess out of me.''

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Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

The Wizards, as they are expected to be constructed next season, should be uniquely good on the offensive end. They could have Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans (if he re-signs), two of the game's most lethal shooters, spreading the floor. Rui Hachimura has the potential to be elite in the midrange and Thomas Bryant is one of the league's most efficient scorers around the rim.

Then, you have John Wall distributing the ball. There are three levels of offense and the Wizards could have all of them covered with a generational passer setting everyone up. That has the potential to be the type of offense with very little, if any, weaknesses. 

But the defensive end could be a completely different story. None of the aforementioned players are elite defenders and the Wizards posted the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season at 115.6.

That's what made a particular development in the Wizards' loss to the Sixers on Wednesday encouraging. Bryant more than held his own against Joel Embiid, one of the NBA's best offensive centers and arguably the league's most imposing physical force. 

Bryant held Embiid to 3-for-11 shooting while The Process went 8-for-11 against his teammates. Bryant had 19 total contested shots in the game and held his match-ups to 33.3 percent shooting overall. He blocked four shots, which tied a career-high.

"It was his best defensive game I've ever seen him play," head coach Scott Brooks said. "He was aware, he was anticipating, his hands were up and he jumped. If you just do those things, you give yourself a chance for a defensive stop at the rim. I thought tonight he was outstanding pretty much on both ends."

Bryant has some physical tools that lend themselves to the defensive end. He's one of the fastest centers up and down the floor in the NBA. And he has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Of all players drafted since 2013, only five players have registered bigger wingspans at the combine: Mo Bamba, Bol Bol, Tacko Fall, Zhou Qi and Ike Anigbogu.

Bryant knows his potential on that end of the floor and how he hasn't really come close to reaching his full ceiling in the NBA. When told of Brooks' praise, he downplayed it as just one game.

"It's a step in the right direction. Keep improving every day, that's my main thing, especially on the defensive end," Bryant said.

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Consistency will be key. In the Wizards' previous game against the Pacers, Myles Turner went 5-for-5 while guarded by Bryant. In the team's season opener, DeAndre Ayton went 3-for-5 against him.

But if Bryant can establish some stability on that end, it could solve a lot of problems for the Wizards. Rim protector is again going to be a big priority for them this offseason, as it has essentially been annually. Finding solutions in that area is just very difficult to do. 

Teams that have good shot-blockers don't let them go and when they leave in free agency, they are expensive. If you draft rim protectors, they often take time to develop.

The Wizards, though, arguably need one now more than ever before. They are about to reinsert Wall into the lineup with a surgically repaired Achilles. As much as people have focused on his offense and how his speed could be affected, the defensive end should be the biggest concern.

The injury notoriously affects lateral movement and Wall will have to stay in front of NBA point guards, who are some of the quickest athletes in the world. Defensive structure around him could help compensate and a rim protector would provide a security blanket behind him.

Bryant has a long way to go to fill that void, and he knows it. But Wednesday was, like he said, a step in the right direction.

NBA.com advanced stats were used as part of this research

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Maryland's Mike Locksley forms minority football coaches coalition

Maryland's Mike Locksley forms minority football coaches coalition

There are only three Black coaches out of 32 in the NFL and only 14 out of 130 FBS football coaches are Black. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley is taking steps to change that pattern.

Locksley announced the formation of the Nationals Coalition of Minority Football Coaches Thursday, a non-profit organization focused on helping male or female football coaches of color gain exposure in the hiring process. 

"When I took the Maryland job last year and looked at the landscape of college football, I thought to myself, 'There's something missing. I'm on the back nine of my career and the pathway to becoming a head coach is still as difficult as when I got into the business in 1992,'" Locksley told NFL.com's Jim Trotter. "I wanted to create an organization that would be able to help prepare, promote and produce the next group of coaches coming up through the ranks at every level."

The coalition's goals are to find and groom football coaches of color as well as provide a list of board-approved candidates for job openings in both the NFL and the college ranks. 

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There are 11 board members, featuring Ravens owner Ozzie Newsome, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, Washington Football Team executive Doug Williams and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier. 

"We want to use their experiences to help us formulate and produce the list of qualified candidates, so when people say there aren't enough minorities to fill the positions that have come open over the years, we're going to produce a list of qualified people that shows there are qualified people," Locksley said. 

While the coalition isn't expected to provide its first list for several months as the organization continues to settle in, Locksley hopes he and the board members can leverage their experience and relationships to ensure franchise's and universities aren't overlooking qualified candidates. 

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