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Veteran special teams standout makes Pro Bowl

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Veteran special teams standout makes Pro Bowl

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Lorenzo Alexander arrived in Washington in October 2006 as a 300-pound undrafted, practice squad defensive lineman who had been cut by two teams during the previous month.

Six years, eight positions and plenty of ups and downs later, Alexander, now a co-captain of the resurgent Redskins, was voted to the Pro Bowl as the NFC's special teams player.

In fact, Washington's other two Pro Bowl-bound players, rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and offensive tackle Trent Williams, are co-captains. Fellow co-captain London Fletcher is an alternate at inside linebacker.

``You put a lot of hard work in being a dominant player,'' said the 29-year-old Alexander, who leads the NFL with 19 special teams tackles, several of them bone-jarring. ``To be recognized by the fans, the coaches and the players is a pretty cool experience. I thought I should've went the last couple years. It didn't happen for me, but it's a testament to keep grinding, keep working hard, keep trying to improve you game and eventually things will turn out great.''

The Redskins' six-game winning streak, which has them in a season-finale showdown with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East title on Sunday night, helped raise awareness of Alexander's excellence. But this recognition has deep roots.

``I was just trying to scratch to make the team,'' said Alexander, who began adding to his plethora of positions as a guard during spring workouts in 2007. He first earned notoriety by making a tackle after his helmet had come off in a preseason game with Tennessee that summer. ``I always found a way to be useful and keep my spot. I've just kind of adapted and evolved over the years. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of that is great coaching and great players I've had a chance to play with. And now six years later, you find yourself in a leadership role.''

Alexander was a starting outside linebacker in 2010, but has been in a reserve role there, at defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, tight end, tackle, guard and fullback during his other five seasons on Washington's roster. The five Redskins remaining from the last playoff team in 2007 - Fletcher, tight end Chris Cooley, receiver Santana Moss, defensive end Kedric Golston and safety Reed Doughty - have all been starters for at least three seasons.

``This year he has taken his game to a different level and was very happy he was rewarded for that,'' said coach Mike Shanahan, who was also gratified by the selections of the maturing Williams and the mature-beyond-his-years Griffin.

Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith was particularly thrilled for Alexander.

``I mean, there's no guy more deserving. All people have to do is watch the film,'' Smith said.

``When you look at him, he makes plays every week. He gets double- and triple-teamed at times. He has more big, solid hits than anybody. It's something that he takes very personal, very prideful. And he plays with a passion. You root for guys like that.''

Williams was as excited as Alexander to be selected, considering that this time last year he was serving a four-game suspension after failing multiple drug tests.

``I'm definitely proud,'' said Williams, voted a captain before the season. ``Since I got drafted (fourth overall in 2010) I wanted to be in the Pro Bowl. That was one of my goals. I went through a lot of self-inflicted wounds, but I'm thrilled to show people that I have character. I did shoot myself in the foot, but I was able to bounce back and show people that I've matured. This just caps it off. And us making a playoff push, I couldn't have wrote a better script.''

Griffin was more matter of fact about his selection, even though he joined Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only rookie quarterbacks ever chosen in the initial voting, not as an injury replacement. Griffin, the NFL's second-ranked passer, is the first Redskins quarterback so honored since Brad Johnson, who led Washington to its last NFC East title in 1999.

``I didn't have too much of a reaction,'' Griffin said. ``We're all focused on the Cowboys. You never play for awards. Everybody in this locker room has a part of (us) making it to the Pro Bowl. If everybody could go, we'd take everybody. You don't get these kind of awards unless you're winning and we've won six straight.''

Notes: Right tackle Tyler Polumbus, who missed last week's game at Philadelphia with a concussion, returned to limited practice Thursday. If Polumbus passes another concussion test before Friday's workout, he'll return to full practice and could start against Dallas.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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