Senior LB Greene leading a Rutgers resurgence

Senior LB Greene leading a Rutgers resurgence

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) One can point to a number of reasons why No. 19 Rutgers is unbeaten midway through its season, but linebacker Khaseem Greene's decision to forgo the NFL Draft is chief among them.

After leading the Big East in tackles and earning a share of the conference's player of the year award, Greene announced he was returning to Rutgers for a fifth-year campaign four days before the Scarlet Knights' Pinstripe Bowl triumph over Iowa State last December.

It's been a good move.

While the Scarlet Knights (6-0, 3-0 Big East), who travel to Philadelphia to renew a rivalry with Temple (3-2, 2-0) on Saturday, underwent a massive transformation this offseason as Greg Schiano abruptly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kyle Flood took coaching reins at Rutgers, Greene's leadership has been credited for keeping everything together.

``I wasn't going to let any of that take away from what we needed to get accomplished,'' Greene said. ``I knew we were too good to take a step back this year.''

The same can be said about Greene, who has picked up where left off in lifting Rutgers to its best start since 2006. The Scarlet Knights can improve to 7-0 for the second time in six seasons - and just the fifth time since being credited with playing the first college football game 143 years ago - Saturday against the improved Owls at Lincoln Financial Field.

``A lot of things went into that decision,'' said Greene, who recorded 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in Rutgers' 23-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday. ``This place has been home for me for the last five years, and leaving would've felt like leaving my family's house. And it was also because of how we finished last season, knowing we had unfinished business and then realizing what type of team we had coming back.

``I'm definitely glad that I stayed.''

The opportunity to earn money playing professionally was intriguing for Greene, who grew up in a tough section of Elizabeth, N.J. With his father, Raymond, having spent most of his life in and out of jail, Greene credits his mother, Arnessa, for his mentoring and making the right decisions.

``It was tough turning down the money, but my mom said something that stuck with me,'' said Greene, whose father was recently released on parole and attended his first Rutgers game when the Scarlet Knights defeated Connecticut, 19-3, earlier this month. ``My mom said 12 months or however long it takes for me to get paid is not going to hurt us any more than it has for the 22 years of my life. It's always been rough for us growing up, so if the money happens it's going to happen regardless.''

Another year of academics won't hurt, either.

``That's what made me announce I was staying at Rutgers before the bowl game. My mom, my uncles, they all told me not to make it about the money. Because you're not going to be happy with your decision at the end of the day,'' he said. ``The NFL career isn't long anyway. Some guys are blessed to play 15 years in the league, but most guys don't get to play that long. I just never made money the focal point of my decision to leave or stay.''

That Greene ranks among the Big East leaders in six statistical categories is a tribute to his perseverance after he bounced back from an ankle injury that needed to be surgically repaired following last year's bowl.

``It was definitely a scary thing to go through but going into the surgery the doctors told me it was just a broken bone and my ligaments were fine,'' Greene said. ``Doc even told me right before the surgery that I'd have a better leg then I had before, and that's exactly how I feel now.

``I feel faster than I was before.''

It shows. And numbers aside, Greene believes he is having a better all-around season than last.

``I don't know how many tackles I had last season at this point compared to this year, but I just know I feel a lot better,'' he said. ``I know I worked real hard this offseason, and my team worked hard this offseason, which you see is really paying off. It's just crazy how it's all coming together.''

Greene's standout performance vs. the Orange was witnessed by scouts from eight NFL teams. And as the season nears its end, and the draft draws closer, there will likely be more watching the 6-foot-1, 230-pound weakside linebacker.

``I never heard first, second or third round. I never even got a legitimate grade,'' Greene said. ``I got an email that said I wouldn't be in the first three rounds and that was it. Not that I cared about the grade, it was more going to be about talking to my family, talking to coach, and being around my teammates. I didn't prove anything to anybody because if I did, I would've gotten a better grade.''

Greene is a big reason why the Scarlet Knights defense ranks among the nation's top 15 in six statistical categories, including rushing defense (2nd, 60.8), turnovers gained (7th, 17) and points allowed per game (3rd, 11.5).

``Their linebackers are outstanding players,'' said Temple coach Steve Addazio, whose Owls are bidding for their first upset of a Top 25 team since 1998. ``Those guys have a tremendous impact on the game. I'm watching their tape and I feel like, `Am I watching Rutgers or the New York Giants here?' I'm extremely impressed with this Rutgers football team.''

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 

Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera


5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C.