November 27, 2014

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

OPINION: Washington Redskins and Jay Gruden drop the ball on Robert Griffin III

“I think as a man and as a competitor, I think Robert does have a future in the NFL, but I’m not going to predict it.” –Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.

Five games. Five partial games. Five partial, increasingly worsening games. That’s all it took for Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden to decide that Robert Griffin III is incapable of running his offense. It’s hard to debate, as Griffin has looked more and more lost on the field in recent weeks. Presumably healthy, he has stopped running completely, seems oblivious to open receivers, and has alienated teammates with his play on the field and soap opera drama off.

There’s plenty of damning evidence to say Griffin just isn’t getting it and he needs to be replaced. That’s all well and good — if the team was playing for anything other than pride the rest of the way. Funny word, pride. It’s a buzzword around this organization, but very little of it seems to rub off on the actual players.

Gruden isn’t as invested in rehabilitating Griffin as maybe the organization as a whole, and he indicated as much in his press conference on Wednesday.

“No, not really,” Gruden offered. “I came here with a clean slate and I want to play the best players, period, whoever they are. First-round picks, sixth-round picks, free agents, I don’t really care who they are, where they came from. Obviously the history of Robert and the talent that he has at quarterback, very excited to coach him when I first got the job and I still am. I’m not giving up on Robert. It’s just we haven’t been successful. But the past is the past. We’re moving forward and we’re trying to do what’s best for the Redskins this year and for years to come. Right now, today as I stand up here, I feel like this is the best move for us moving forward to Indianapolis.”

Moving forward to Indianapolis. Not 2015. Not “the future.” The next game.

I suppose Gruden can be excused for being focused on wins and losses this season. Anyone that follows this team knows the owner’s box could grow tired or fickle after one season and give the head coach the boot. The idea that Gruden has to make the switch in order to keep the locker room is further damning the infrastructure this organization has implemented over the past 15 years.

But Colt McCoy is no one’s idea of a long-term solution at the position.

Starting McCoy, the 28-year-old journeyman, over RGIII at this point is applying a band-aid to hemorrhage — lipstick on a pig. With everything invested in Griffin, the organization owes it to itself to fix him, not hide him on the bench in the hopes of winning a game or two down the stretch in another lost season.

It’s hard to believe — nee, unbelievable — that Griffin’s talent has completely sapped. Sure, the injuries have taken their toll on his running game. He’ll never be the same in that regard. But this is the same player that has completed 63.5 percent of his passes in his career and threw for 20 touchdowns and just five picks his rookie season, just two years ago.

Has that player just simply disappeared?

The most alarming aspect of Griffin’s deteriorating confidence is the sheer number of sacks he’s taking. That’s not just on the offensive line, though without Trent Williams it’s about as good as an Arena League squad. But Griffin is holding the ball, stepping into sacks, failing to identify open receivers, almost completely unable to run the offense in any manner whatsoever. Last week, he looked utterly and completely lost.

It’s a crisis of confidence. An dramatic and unfortunate collapse of what seemed like such a promising career not that long ago.

The biggest takeaway from the entire episode is the way that ONCE AGAIN the national media had the news BEFORE the players were informed. This organization does everything backwards and wonders why (recent) former players disassociate from the franchise quickly as possible?

They’ll probably trade up to draft another quarterback instead of investing in the lines first, wasting even more time and resources drafting a talent position without the necessary infrastructure.

It’s how this franchise has been run for the last 15 years; the only thing that’s been consistent is the man that signs the checks.

But just as it’s been in those 15 years, it’s time for the Washington Redskins to completely start over again. And a young man’s future hangs in the balance. It’s a shame that the combination of physical injury, poor management and lack of awareness has derailed such a promising career for what was such a charismatic player.

And on this Thanksgiving, Redskins fans have very little to give thanks about with regard to the franchise that continues to be mired in drama and controversy, ripping their hearts out with every news leak.

Three Stars: Washington Capitals at New York Islanders, Nov. 26

Alex Ovechkin did Alex Ovechkin things despite nursing an injury, but an overtime power play goal went the other way and the Washington Capitals fell for the fourth time in six games, 3-2, to the New York Islanders, increasingly looking like one of the best teams in the conference, if not the whole stinking league.

First Star: Alex Ovechkin. Two power play goals, four shots, two blocked and two missed and three hits. Injured or not, this guy is bringing it every single night for the Caps.

Second Star: Matt Niskanen. Ovechkin can make anyone look good running the power play point, but Niskanen needs to exert himself while Green is out (again) and he had two shots on goal, another one blocked and four hits to go along with his apple.

Third Star: Jay Beagle? Three shots on goal and 10 of 15 at the dot, with 17:33 of non-scored upon ice time. Good boy.

Goat of the night: Nick Backstrom. Despite his two power play helpers, Backstrom is veteran enough that he knows he can’t take a holding-the-stick call with two minutes to go in overtime.

Washington Capitals Game 21 Recap: Tavares’ OT winner drops Caps

John Tavares scored with 24 seconds remaining in overtime and the New York Islanders dropped the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday at the soon-to-be defunct Nassau Coliseum.

Tavares deked Karl Alzner to a knee, then wristed a shot through traffic to beat Braden Holtby. The goal came with Nick Backstrom in the penalty box for a holding-the-stick penalty.

The Islanders (16-6-0) won their fifth in a row and 10th of 11, and they are undefeated in seven extra-time games this season. Goalie Jaroslav Halak made 25 saves for his eighth straight win.

Alex Ovechkin scored two power play goal for the Caps (9-8-4), who have lost four of their last six games.

The teams will face off again Friday at Verizon Center.

The Islanders, proving to be one of the top teams in the conference, jumped out early, with Anders Lee scoring his fourth of the season just 5:11 in. Ovechkin responded with his first power play goal — his tenth of the season overall — at 13:46, slamming home a feed from Matt Niskanen from his familiar perch in the left wing faceoff circle.

Four minutes later, New York went back up on a power play marker of its own, as Travis Hamonic’s wrist shot from the center point got through a maze of bodies and past Holtby (32 saves).

Ovechkin tied it less than two minutes into the second period, converting a cross-crease pass from Backstrom past a splayed Halak.

Griffin takes more lumps as Washington Redskins continue to plummet

The Washington Redskins fell to 3-8 after losing Sunday to San Francisco, on the road, in another lost season. Once again, we all watched — maybe with morbid curiosity at this point — as Robert Griffin III floundered in a scaled-back offense, unable to provide anything but mere glimpses of the spectacular form he had in 2012, leading the franchise to the playoffs before that season so brutally ended in injury.

Griffin’s performance Sunday — 11 of 19, 106 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs and 11 yards rushing on four carries — were uninspiring, to say the very least. Griffin did not complete a pass in the last 10;40 of the game, which was still very much in doubt until that point and was sacked six times, bringing a three-game total to 16 since his return from  injury.

It doesn’t help that he’s playing behind a makeshift, patchwork offensive line, with its best player off the field due to injury. Still, the RGIII that was an extreme playmaker in 2012 is nowhere to be seen these days.

Hesitant, tentative, unaware …use any adjective you want to describe his demeanor on the field.

Following the game, wide receiver Pierre Garcon was asked what it might take to jump-start the moribund Redskins offense.

Garcon’s locker room comments are no less damning, but much less cryptic, than Desean Jackson’s barely coherent Twitter ramblings last week.

It’s a telling indictment to Griffin’s lack of vision and awareness on the football field right now. Most Redskins fans forget this is a third-year player in name only, having missed significant portions of each season injured or recuperating. But no excuses, Griffin looks like a player regressing in a big way, considering the level he played as a rank rookie.

Some fans complain, maybe correctly, that Colt McCoy or Kirk Cousins didn’t have trouble moving Jay Gruden’s offense and the rookie head coach should turn back to one of them as Griffin’s troubles continue to mount.

But the bigger point is this: Could McCoy or Cousins win a game or two more this season, another in a long line of lost seasons? Yes, they probably could. But no one could reasonably say they have any real future as a starter for a contending NFL team.

Could RGIII still be a star in this league, the quarterback to lead the Washington Redskins back to the playoffs? Yes. It’s easy to remember how good he was and envision him reclaiming that status.

For that reason alone, Griffin should continue to start this season — health allowing — to continue to learn Gruden’s offense in an attempt to recapture the magic he displayed just the season before last, before the  injuries robbed him of two off-seasons and important development time.

This organization has made a habit of building from the outside-in for the past 15 years. Quarterbacks, wide receivers, pass rushers, all-star veteran free agents on their last legs …very rarely has the team built from the inside-out, with stout offensive and defensive linemen, instead relying on a patchwork of lower draft picks, undrafted rookies, and rejects from other teams.

Considering the expense of acquiring Griffin and the damage that’s been done to his career and the organization’s prospects tied to it, one would hope they finally will learn their lesson of buying sports cars but putting discount tires on them. Considering the events of the past 15 years, though, it’s hard to imagine that lesson sinking in if it hasn’t by now.

Washington Capitals Game 12 Recap: Despite strong effort, a Flame-out

OVECHKIN PASSES BONDRA AS CAPS’ ALL-TIME SCORING LEADER WITH ASSIST

The last three players to touch the Calgary Flames’ overtime-forcing goal in the third period wore a Washington Capitals sweater. So of course, after the Caps fairly dominated overtime the Flames scored with just 43 seconds remaining, sending the Caps to their fifth straight loss, a 4-3 decision that should have had a better result based on the play on the ice.

The Caps (4-5-3) played their best game in two weeks, but lucky bounces and fluky goals were the rule in this one, and the losing streak continues.

Lance Bouma got the Flames on the board first. a shot from the point by Kris Russell was knocked down by a mass of bodies, but Bouma had position on Mike Green — at the end of a long shift — in the crease, and tapped the rebound past Braden Holtby.

Just 1:19 later, though, the top line came together to tie it up. Tom Wilson dug the puck out of the corner and sent to Alex Ovechkin at the point. Ovi wristed a shot toward net that Nick Backstrom tipped past Jonas Hiller to tie the game.

The assist marked Ovechkin’s 826th career point, moving the Great Eight past Peter Bondra as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

Midway through the second period, defenseman Mark Giordano faked out Tom Wilson at the point, carried into the slot, and lifted a backhand past Holtby (21 saves) to make it 2-1 Flames.

As with the first goal though, the Caps came right back moments later. Marcus Johansson’s long shot off the end boards bounced off Hiller’s leg pad and into the net. It was Johansson’s fifth goal of the campaign.

Washington took advantage of a five-on-three situation a couple of minutes later. Backstrom, on the goalie’s left post, passed across the crease to Joel Ward, who banged one off the inside of Hiller’s pads and into the net to put the Caps up 3-2.

It stayed that way until 5:10 left. Mike Green was beaten to a puck in the corner, but it went straight to Marcus Johansson in the slot. Johansson tried to clear the puck to the boards. but it ricocheted off Troy Brouwer’s skate and past the surprised Holtby to even it at 3 goals apiece.

The Caps had a chance at the buzzer to avoid overtime. Ovechkin blocked a shot and beat the Calgary defender to the puck. He fed Backstrom on the far wing, who found Wilson on the doorstep. But Wilson’s shot was denied by Hiller as time expired, prompting overtime.

Then, after having the advantage at play most of the extra session, Sean Monahan beat Holtby with 43 seconds left to end the game unceremoniously.

  • The Caps outshot the Flames 34-23.
  • Bondra, on Ovechkin: “It has been a thrill to watch Alex play for the Capitals during his young, illustrious career. He is an extremely talented player and I couldn’t be happier for him on achieving this great milestone.”
  • Liam O’Brien fought Derek Engelland, pretty much to a draw, despite giving up quite a bit of size and weight.
  • Tom Wilson continues to shine on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. On several occasions, he made room in the crease and constantly gives the top a line a physical presence with opposition defenders.
  • Speaking of physical presence, Backstrom came to Ovechkin’s defense on a check in the second. Ovi was dumped by Curtis Glencross and Backstrom clobbered him before Wilson joined the fray. Glencross received a roughing minor and the Caps scored on the ensuing penalty.
  • Johansson’s maturity continues to impress. He played a very solid possession game and had a pair shots, including one in overtime that almost won it were it not for Hiller’s excellent save.

 

OPINION: New coach, same old story? Why are Caps not as good as sum of their parts?

Yes, this is another “kick them while they’re down” column.

The Captain is getting criticized for (perceived) lack of leadership, “hockey IQ” or heart. Threats of reduction in ice time are only realized in the lower part of the roster. Goaltenders with sub-.900 save percentages. The Washington Capitals are — yet again — performing at less than the sum of their parts.

What year is it exactly?

We were promised a difference this time. Barry Trotz was going to come in and demand accountability from the Washington Capitals — and the entire organization. So far, it’s been much like the past several seasons: glimpses of brilliance followed by frustration and disappointment.

The team’s possession stats and shots against numbers show that they are driving play and limiting opportunities in their own end. Yet, in the past six games the results have been downright terrible. Plenty of voices are saying, “Stay the course, good things are coming.” It’s hard to ignore when you look at the stats. But folks been saying similar things for a while with nothing to show for it except first round exits.

It takes time to change the culture of an organization. Anyone that thought Trotz would able to accomplish the feat in the first couple months of his first season was deluded. But so far this season we continue to see the same fundamental problems this team has had over the past, oh, I don’t know, nine seasons or so.

The “country club vs. lunchpail” debate has been going on since Bruce Boudreau’s last couple of campaigns, and still, the Caps flounder.

None other than resident new guy, Brooks Orpik, noted, “Guys are [going to] make mistakes, we just need other guys to pick them up and right now one guy makes a mistake and everyone just kind of watches it happen.” (my emphasis, via CSNWashington, s/t RMNB)

Trotz, for his part, is starting to show some of that frustration himself. His comments following the disastrous 6-5 loss to the Coyotes Sunday night show that he is exasperated with the general attention level of his players.

“You guys have lived it more than I have,” Trotz said. “But I will say this: That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling we play just as hard as we need to,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s not how you win in this league.”

Trotz has a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach in this league. This team has a well-earned reputation as being soft and undisciplined. It’s a toss-up which way this will go. So far, it’s only cost four coaches their jobs.

You might think this criticism is directed straight at the Captain. While I honestly think some of the problem lies at his feet, it’s more of a pervasive attitude that hinders the Caps.

Despite opening the season playing very strong defense, why have we seen such dramatic (and continued) breakdowns the past two weeks? Despite numbers to suggest he’s always driven play, why has Eric Fehr been benched now by his last four coaches? Despite talent suggesting he should be a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in this league, why does Braden Holtby look like he’s getting worse instead of better? Despite an utter lack of talent, why does Jay Beagle keep getting opportunities in the top-6? Despite all the goal-scoring talent in the world, why can’t Kuznetsov get off the fourth line?

Despite all the obvious talent on the roster, why aren’t the Caps better than the results?

These are all questions that can only be answered by the men that make those decisions. NHL coaches can’t afford to be completely honest in answering media questions, so we have to distill the answers by what they say and the decisions they then make with regards to the lineup.

Like Adam Oates, Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau before him, Barry Trotz is now tasked with maximizing this team’s talent. It’s a job the previous three weren’t able to accomplish.

After nine years of trying, I wonder if anyone is capable of accomplishing the feat.

Washington Redskins Game 9 Review: Defense optional as Vikings top Redskins

The Washington Redskins team bus was involved in an accident on its way to Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, shaking up team members and the coaching staff. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, though third string RB Silas Redd was made inactive due to his back tightening up after the collision.

Unfortunately, the accident was an apt metaphor for the team’s defense today, as the wheels came off early and the previously ineffective Vikings offense, led by rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, carved up the D in large chunks to beat the Redskins 29-26.

The game marked the return of QB Robert Griffin III, and while his arm is as impressive as it has always been — he was obviously rusty from missing so many weeks due to his dislocated ankle — it was apparent he wore down as the day went along and the hits piled up, as he was sacked five times by the Minnesota defense.

Griffin was 18 of 28 for 251 yards, a touchdown and a very costly interception. He looked great on downfield balls — as long as the porous offensive line gave him time to set. He looked less good on sprint passes, especially when asked to move to his left and throw against his body. On those occasions, he looked either physically incapable, or just plain unwilling, to set his feet and make a good hard throw.

The offensive line play, again today, was simply atrocious. On very few occasions, Griffin had enough time to go through his progressions and find the correct receiver. He was much more effective on single-read routes where he didn’t need read the play. Griffin often looked indecisive as well, perhaps a testament to his inactivity over eight weeks.

The running game with Alfred Morris, however, looked very sharp in the first half. Predictably though, once the game got competitive in the second quarter and second half, the team practically abandoned the run and opted to use screens and swing passes to keep the defense honest, with varying degrees of success.

Morris finished with 92 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.

Griffin found Desean Jackson for two long gains and a short touchdown pass, once again showing Jackson’s threat to secondaries across the league. He made four catches for 120 yards, the longest of 56 yards. But his offensive pass interference call in the fourth quarter — a very soft call — ended up putting the Redskins in a second-and-20 spot they could not recover from.

The Redskins (3-6) built a 10-0 lead on a Kai Forbath 36-yard field goal and Morris’ first touchdown of the day, a 14-yard carry. Both drives were impressive; the first went 13 plays and 72 yards, the second went 91 yards on six plays.

The Redskins held the Vikings (4-5) on downs in their territory right before the half, but on the next play — with 1:04 left on their own 39 — Griffin rolled left and threw to Andre Roberts, but the throw was short and Captain Munnerlyn stepped in and scooped it up before it hit the ground. After review, the play stood.

Bridgewater needed just four plays to put it in the end zone, the last was a 20-yard strike to wide open tight end Chase Ford (5 catches, 66 yards) down the left sideline for the score. The Vikings made it 14-10 early in the third — after a Redskins three-and-out — as a 6-play, 56-yard drive ended on Matt Asiata’s 1-yard plunge.

Washington answered though, marching 56 yards on seven plays and Griffin hit Jackson on a slant with a terrific pass to make it 17-14. The team forced a three-and-out, then got in position for Forbath’s second field goal of the day, this time from 26 yards, and the Redskins led 20-14.

That’s when the defense went completely AWOL.

Minnesota took its next possession 76 yards in 10 plays, with Asiata’s 7-yard touchdown as a result, and a Vikings 21-20 lead.

The Redskins responded with another solid drive, 8 plays, 80 yards, and Morris’ second touchdown, a 2-yard run. A failed 2-point conversion made it 26-21 Redskins.

But the defense again laid down. The Vikings, who hadn’t scored more than 14 points in any of their past five games, carved up the defense for 73 yards on 12 plays, culminating with Asiata’s third score of the day, and the dagger in the Redskins hopes.

The offense got the ball back with 3:27 left, needing a field goal to force overtime. But the drive stalled, and Griffin’s fourth down pass to Pierre Garcon, on a sprint left, was low and short and fell incomplete.

Washington Capitals 2014-15 Season Roundtable Part VII: How will the Caps finish?

We’re a little late to the party here, but District Sports Page conducted a roundtable with staff writers and friends of the site to discuss pertinent issues surrounding the 2014-15 Washington Capitals.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief; Katie Brown, Staff Writer; Eric Hobeck, Staff Writer; J.J. Regan, Contributor; Abram Fox, former contributor, Harry Hawkings, Editor at Rock the Red.

Part I: Grade the Caps offseason and their biggest acquisitions
Part II: What is your single biggest area of concern?
Part III: What do you expect out of Alex Ovechkin this season?
Part IV: Are you satisfied with the goaltending situation?
Part V: How many games do you expect Brooks Laich to play?
Part VI: Which young player makes a bigger impact this season, Burakovsky, Kuznetsov or Wilson?

Part VII: How many points will the Caps finish with, their place in the standings and playoff result, if any?

Dave: I have historically been pretty terrible at picking the Caps record, so I don’t expect to be any better at it this year. Realistically, you have to look at last season and think the Caps are trending down, but considering they missed the playoffs, how much further down could they go. They you look at the early season success they have in the possession game and Mike Green’s apparent rejuvenation and think, well, they might not be so bad. The difference a good coach makes?

Honestly, one can envision this team gelling and getting better throughout the year, or just as easily struggling with having to depend on rookies to provide the bulk of secondary scoring and a goalie that tends to fight himself when he struggles.

I’m gonna say 94 points (41-29-12) points, third place in the Metro and bounced in the first round. Just like old times.

Katie: The Capitals could feasibly finish in the top 3 of the Metropolitan Division and make the playoffs, but I’m already worried that they’ll end up with too many games going to shootout (they’ve already had 3 of 5 games go to SO). Sure, it’s point padding, however, they need regulation wins to prove they are a team that can go places in the playoffs. I’d like to see them make it past the first round if they do make it to the playoffs, but I think it’s too soon to predict what kind of team they’ll be just yet as far as playoff longevity. The overall picture looks far more promising than last season, by a country mile.

Eric: I think they’ll get back in the playoffs this year as the champions of the Metropolitan Division. They’ll finish around 47-23-12 for 106 points because of the improved defense, resurgent forwards and stable goaltending, as well as the steady coaching hand of Trotz. In the playoffs, they’ll get through the first two rounds and get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, where they’ll fall to a more experienced Montreal Canadiens squad.

J.J. : 44-30-10, 98 points, third in the Metropolitan Division. They will lose in the second round to Pittsburgh (who else?). The Caps were the first team out of the playoffs last season, missing the cut by only three points. This team has a better coach and better defense. If the Caps can come that close to the playoffs with Oates as coach, then they should be able to easily make the playoffs this season.

Abram: 42-29-11, 95 points, 4th in the Metropolitan (by a point or two), 1st wild card in the East. Lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs in six games.

Harry: 43-30-9; 95 standings points; 4th in Metro; Lose to Pittsburgh in first round. Ultimately, this team is slightly better than they were last year. They’ll get better goaltending (probabaly some of the best in the NHL because Holtby is that good), but they will struggle on offense. Trotz is a good enough coach that he’ll be able to maximize the team and they will make the playoffs, but don’t expect much once they do. They’re just not deep enough.

Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden’s full comments on RGIII starting

In his normal media availability Thursday, Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden indicated the team plans to start Robert Griffin III at quarterback Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Below are his full comments about the matter.

From the team press release:

On the quarterback situation:

“We’ve moved Robert [Griffin III] along at a pretty good clip. We started him out in individual drills, monitored him. Last week he got some team drills, obviously. He did very well and the progress that he has made has had us put him in with the ones and prepare to be the starter. He’s coming along great. We wouldn’t put him in with the ones if we didn’t feel like he was 100 percent physically. Now it’s a question of ‘let’s get him some reps with the ones to see where he is mentally, see how he’s throwing the ball with the group, see if his timing is there, if his reads are there, see how comfortable he is back there,’ and he looks fine. So, every intent right now is moving forward we have to prepare him to be the starting quarterback. If there a fallback, if there’s a drawback whatsoever as far as the injury, if he’s sore at all, then we’ll go back to Colt [McCoy]. But right now, he looks pretty good moving forward but we still have another day tomorrow.”

On if quarterback Robert Griffin III will start:

“If everything goes well, he has got a great chance to start. Right now he looks great, his ankle looks great, you know what I mean? Today, he missed a few throws. We’ll get them corrected. Colt had some good throws today obviously. But, we have a good choice of quarterbacks, but Robert’s the starter. We want to make sure when he came back that he did come back – he’s got to be 100 percent, No. 1, physically, and I feel like he’s at 100 percent physically right now. We still have another day left and to make sure that’s the case. All the doctors are onboard, the trainers are onboard. As far as physically, he looks great. He looked great last week. This week he looks fine. Now it’s just a matter of seeing him with the team drills and how he throws and going from there.”

On what he wants to see from Griffin III prior to Friday:

“I’ll see him decisive with the ball, accuracy, decisive, feet in the pocket, very important. Make sure he’s not jittery, make sure he’s not tentative with his reads and decisions. Make sure he’s confident, plays with that confident air that he has that everybody loves moving forward and we’ll make the final decision, but everything looks good so far,”

On the advantages and disadvantages of playing Griffin III:

“There’s no cons of playing him now if he’s healthy, which we think he is. The problem with the bye is everybody thinks you’ve got a bye, you ‘ve got all this extra time to work. The bye week, the players get like five days off. It’s not like we can come out here and have two-a-days and get them ready for next week. If he’s ready physically, then I think he should play, and that’s what it comes down to. Physically, we think he’s ready, and then like I said, after the physical part, I want to make sure he’s comfortable in the pocket with all the throws and all of his reads, the new plays we’ve added since he’s been gone, some of the new concepts we’ve added since he’s been gone, try to get him up-to-date on those, try to get him up to speed. And if he’s up to speed making the right decisions, we have another day tomorrow, then there’s a great chance he’ll be the starter. But there’s really no benefit to if he is healthy to really sitting him and waiting for the bye. It’s not like his leg’s going to get stronger. His leg’s fine. So, what the heck?

On his expectations of Griffin III moving forward:

“We expect a lot from our starting quarterback whoever it is. We expect a lot from Kirk [Cousins], we expect a lot from Colt [McCoy], and that won’t change with Robert. We have high expectations for him because he is our starting quarterback. He’s a very good athlete, very talented, and he’s played five quarters of football as a starting quarterback here for me since I’ve been here. He’s got a lot to prove as we do, but he’s our starter and we feel like he gives us the best chance to win and that’s the bottom line, which quarterback – all three of them are healthy – gives us the best chance to win, and we made the decision back in training camp that it was Robert. He deserves a chance to prove us right.”

On if Griffin III is taking the majority of the reps with the first team:

“Yes.”

On simulating game situations:

“We can’t worry about the simulation of hits because that comes from the doctors as far as him being cleared physically from them. If they feel like his leg is as stable as it was before he got hurt, then he is going to be out there and playing. There’s nothing more he can do to get it better. Now the decision is on me, and that was what I said before was once he gets cleared from the doctors, then I want to make sure he’s ready from a mental standpoint. Out there today, from a mental standpoint he’s fine. It’s just a matter of he was off a little here and there with some of his throws, but we have got another day to get him back comfortable in the pocket and see where he’s at. So, he’s cleared from the doctors. Now, it’s a matter of getting him ready as far as what we talked about from the quarterback’s skillset.”

On how the decision will be made:

“Yeah, it’ll be pretty much my call. I’ll talk about it with the rest of the coaches and Bruce [Allen] and we’ll go from there. Everybody’s on board as far as from a physical standpoint, everyone’s on board. He’s 100 percent. You can see him running around. You saw him running around last week. He was running scout team cards for Tony Romo. He was running around like a banshee, and he’s more healthy than most of the guys we have playing right now. So, from a physical standpoint he is ready, but like I said, for a young quarterback who has missed this much time in a new system, the big thing is getting him back from a mental standpoint. He’s right there. Watching it on film and looking at it on a chalkboard and talking through it in the meeting rooms is a little bit different than doing it live out there in practice. He’s going to have his bumpy times, but hopefully he’ll correct them and do better tomorrow and better Saturday and we’ll be ready to roll.”

On if there is any hesitation to allow Griffin III to run:

“No, if there was any hesitation as far as that is concerned I wouldn’t be thinking about playing him. That is part of my decision going in. He has got to be 100 percent, and by 100 percent I mean able to do everything – run all the plays that we want, the boots, whatever he’s got to do, the quarterback draws, whatever the heck it is outside the pocket. That is what makes Robert, Robert. So, when he is cleared, he is clear to do everything. We can’t hold back because of any past injuries. He has got to play the position the way he plays it.”

On how reliable athletes’ words are when saying they are ready to return:

“Everybody is different. Everybody wants to get back and play. Every great competitor wants to play but you have to really… We do a great job in here with the trainers. Larry [Hess] as much as he bothers me, he does a really good job with rehabbing these guys and the doctors to a good job of monitoring them, watching all his movements out there and the strength tests in there. There is no way they would think about clearing Robert unless they knew for sure he was 100 percent. They feel good about where he is from a structure standpoint as far as not re-injuring that thing, stability standpoint, it’s stable. So there really is nothing holding him back as far as worrying about what might happen if he gets tackled. It’s intact, it’s steady, it’s structurally good, so there is no reason not to play him from a physical standpoint.”

On how the offense has changed since Griffin III was injured and how he has kept up with those changes:

“He’s done a good job. He has been in all the meetings. He prepares like he is playing. That is the responsibility of all quarterbacks and all players when they are not playing. They have to make sure they are ready. But like I said, chalkboard stuff and watching tape is a little bit different than going out there and going through your progressions live. But he has done a good job, man. He is a very, very, very bright guy and I think that is one of his strengths. He picks up everything in the protection adjustments that we’ve had, the route concept changes that we made. He has done a good job with it, he understands them. Made a few mistakes today but, you know, we’ve all done that on Thursdays. We’ve just got to get them corrected before Sunday if he is going to play.”

On how many changes have been made to the offense:

“Quite a few. Every week it’s game plan dependent depending on who we play. Some teams play more man, some teams play more zone, some teams blitz more and every play is game plan dependent upon the concepts we like and who are going to go after, who we are going to target and you just have to be ready to adjust.”

On a scenario in which Griffin III would not start on Sunday:

“I think if something happens where he steps on someone’s foot or something like that or comes up lame for whatever reason, which shouldn’t happen, or if he just comes and tells me, ‘Hey, I might need another week for it to settle in,’ which probably won’t happen. But for me to say he won’t play if he is 100 percent healthy, which we know he is, just his comfort level out there, but he looked fine today. All systems look like they are go. So we will just prepare and watch him again tomorrow and then make a final decision after tomorrow hopefully.”

On if he will name Griffin III the starter now:

“He is taking the starting reps. We have every intent of him starting, you know what I mean? Who knows, he should be fine… If everything goes well tomorrow, he should be the starter, yes. He should be the starter. I might just change my mind now and just start Colt for the first play of the game just to tick everybody off [laughter].”

On the importance of having a quarterback when taking a head coaching job:

“Well, it is important to have a starter in place that you feel good about and try to build your team around. Instead of trying to have two or three of them, you’ve got to compete and figure out who your starter is, that is a tough job. They drafted one, they had a couple in house that they thought are pretty good and that’s a little tougher on them. Here we felt good coming in when I first got the job that Robert would be the guy and we prepared our team for Robert being the quarterback. Unfortunately he got hurt after five quarters and now that he is better, he is going to be the starter. But every team is different, every system is different and you just have to adjust to your personnel.”

Washington Nationals exersize option on Span; decline LaRoche and Soriano

According to multiple sources, the Washington Nationals exercised their $9 million team option on Denard Span on Thursday, ensuring the team’s leadoff hitter and Gold Glove caliber center fielder will remain on the roster for at least the next year.

Span, who will be 31 on opening day, hit .302/.355/.416 last season, leading the Nats in hits and setting team marks for hits and multi-hit games. He was 31-for-38 in stolen base attempts and hit five home runs to boot.

Bringing Span back reduced the Nats decisions on potential free agents down to five (ages on opening day).

Adam LaRoche (35, .259/.362/.455, 26/92): LaRoche had a mutual option for ’15 of $15 million with a $2 million buyout, but declined the option. With Ryan Zimmerman’s limitations in the field, it would be very surprising if the Nats re-upped with LaRoche.

Rafael Soriano (35, 4-1, 32 svs, 3.19/1.129): The veteran reliever looked like the Nats’ All-Star rep at the break, but was atrocious in the second half before going lights-out in the playoffs in a very limited role. Team option for $14 million was declined and considering the way things ended, very unlikely he re-signs in DC.

Asdrubal Cabrera (29, .229/.312/.389, 5/21 in 49 games for Nats): Cabrera became free agent at conclusion of World Series. Was excellent defensively and had a couple of offensive highlights, but his age and already diminished results suggest Nats will let him walk.

Scott Hairston (34, .208/.253/.299, 1/8): Hairston has outlived his usefulness as a Major League Player. That might sound harsh, but it happens to everyone. Was once known as a “lefty-killer” (even if it wasn’t entirely true, but his .293 OBP against lefties this season seal his fate.

Nate Schierholtz (31, .195/.243/.309, 1/4): The “other” Nate, Schierholtz was a waiver wire pickup midseason when Nate McLouth went down for the season to injury. Schierholtz was even worse than McLouth at the plate overall, though did chip in in the playoffs. With another $5 regrettably due McLouth, Schierholtz rides off into the sunset.

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