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Washington’s best choice for starting QB is clear


BALTIMORE – In Saturday’s preseason game against Washington, Baltimore scored a touchdown on its fourth play from scrimmage.

Out trotted Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, named the starter 24 hours earlier and eager to stay atop the depth chart.

He threw an interception on the team’s fourth play from scrimmage.

Immediately, thoughts of 2014 came to mind, when Cousins was intercepted nine times in five starts, including four in a shellacking against the New York Giants. Two-and-a-half games (and four picks) later, Cousins had thrown away his initial shot to prove he’s NFL-starter material.

Now he might has another opportunity, an unexpected opening brought about by Robert Griffin III, who was declared unavailable 24 hours earlier, going from concussed to cleared and back to concussed.

While Washington and the NFL pointed fingers to escape blame for the debacle, Cousins set his sights on the starting quarterback job.

He mostly looked the part following the first drive against Baltimore and finished with 20 completions in 27 attempts for 190 yards and one touchdown. He sensed pressure. He got rid of the ball quickly and on time. He spread the wealth.

There was a lot like as he led two touchdown drives in Washington’s 31-13 comeback victory after Baltimore jumped to a 13-0 lead.

“We took it down in the two-minute drill, there were no sacks, we came away at halftime with the lead,” Cousins said after the game, ticking off what stood out to him. “I felt like the ball was distributed to several different players – running backs, receivers and tight ends – and I felt like we converted third downs. There’s lots of positives to take away certainly.”

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Gruden has to know when to say ‘when’ on RG3


In Texas, for a situation much graver than stinky quarterback play, Robert Griffin III’s college coach is facing a question that’s often asked when trouble arises: “What did you know and when did you know it?”

Art Briles is being queried about his prior knowledge of Sam Ukuachu before the Boise State transfer arrived and went on to be convicted for sexually assaulting a Baylor student.

In Washington, it seems we’re headed to the point where Griffin’s current coach will make a crucial personnel decision and face a similar inquiry.

If/when Jay Gruden pulls the plug on RG3, we’ll ask what the coach saw that convinced him to give up and when he saw it.

The better question at this moment: What does Gruden see that everyone else is missing? Entering the team’s third preseason game, Griffin has shown few signs and inspired little confidence that he’s worthy of the starting job Gruden gave him in January.

RG3 has yet to lead a touchdown drive this preseason, settling for one field goal in seven possessions. Washington was contained to its own side of the field in the four drives he engineered against Detroit last week. That pitiful outing – eight dropbacks, six hits, three sacks, one fumble and one reported concussion – wasn’t entirely Griffin’s fault.

But he’s not blameless.

The Lions demonstrated that every area of concern about RG3 remains firmly in place, namely pocket presence and fundamentals under pressure, along with the ability to detect blitzes, orchestrate protection and deliver the ball quickly while avoiding unnecessary shots.

A multitude of observers believe they have seen enough and know enough right now, concluding that Griffin is a liability and Washington has a better chance of winning with Kirk Cousins under center.

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Roger Goodell: Creative genius or certified crazy?

GoodellGeniusBy DERON SNYDER

Maybe, just maybe, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t a complete dunderhead.

Wouldn’t it be something if his ham-handed approach to various disciplinary issues over the years – Spygate, Bountygate, Deflategate and assorted domestic violence cases – was actually a diabolical scheme to goose up NFL interest? To make the league more like a maddening soap opera in which you hate the main character but can’t turn away?

That would be pure genius, which seems unlikely unless others are pulling Goodell’s strings. But no matter the silliness of his decisions, they effectively keep the spotlight away from the gravest issue the NFL wants to downplay: the mental plight players can face.

Former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer reportedly shot himself in a suicide attempt last week. His former wife told NBC News she believes his depression is partially a result of head injuries he endured during his 10-year career, primarily with Chicago and Detroit.

The incident occurred just one week after the late Junior Seau was inducted into the Hall of Fame and NFL officials were terrified that his daughter would detail the deteriorating psychological conditions that led to his suicide.

Earlier this year, four players aged 30 or younger decided to retire. Former San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland said long-term brain health was his motivation. “I just want to live a long healthy life and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise,” the 24-year-old told ESPN.

Surely the NFL wants our scrutiny focused elsewhere, not on depressed, broken players and their concussion lawsuits. Those fellows make you question the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

At the very least, there are degrees of unfavorable attention and you can’t blame the league for welcoming a less-harmful diversion. Domestic violence did the trick until a “controversy” in the AFC Championship Game took over.

Excuse the pun, but this is a no-brainer: PSI beats CTE as a preferred topic of discussion.

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Duke’s Myles Jones reaches back and pays it forward


Myles Jones was a typical sixth-grade athlete on Long Island who played football and basketball year-round. When a friend’s father suggested that Jones should try lacrosse, the young lad was like: “What’s that?”

Ten years later, Jones is one of the sport’s biggest stars. He owns the Duke University record for career points as a midfielder and has a year left to bolster it. He was a first-team All-American last season and won the national award given to the top midfielder. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 240 pounds, making him a strong, fast and athletic specimen more commonly found on football fields and basketball courts.

But it’s not enough that Jones discovered lacrosse and the sport opened doors for him.

He wants to ensure that other African-American kids are at least introduced to the game and perhaps give it a try.

To that end Jones has become an ambassador of sorts. He was the star attraction at a youth lacrosse clinic in Brooklyn last month and at another one in Baltimore last week.

“I love telling kids my story about not even knowing what lacrosse is,” Jones said Tuesday in a phone interview from campus, where he had just finished helping freshmen teammates move in. “Fast-forward 11 years later, and lacrosse could be my job and I could make a really comfortable living doing it. I feel like it would be selfish to keep the secret to myself.

“I want to speak about it to other kids, especially kids who look like me.”

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Trophies evident of self-esteem movement run amok

ParticipationTrophiesBy DERON SNYDER

For several summers during my childhood, my sister and I would leave Brooklyn and spend up to six weeks at Harmony Heart Camp in Jermyn, Pa. The counselors went by “Uncle John,” “Aunt Vickie,” etc., and they were charged with instilling or reinforcing Christian values in the campers.

We tolerated the lessons and songs in exchange for the bucolic setting, enjoying the lake, woods, arts & crafts, gymnasium and corral. The latter was my absolute favorite. In spending so much time there, I was allowed to assist in grooming and saddling the ponies and conducting rides for fellow campers.

One year, we had a “rodeo” with competition in several events. I won multiple ribbons, which came in blue (first place), red (second place) and white (third place). The blues stand out in my memory and engended the most pride, but the red and white ones were better than nothing.

Not that anything was wrong with nothing. That was the reward for finishers outside the top three and they seemed fine with the arrangement.

Nowadays, I guess everyone would receive a ribbon, just one difference between life in the ‘70s and modern times.

Recognition for participation is the norm; results are secondary. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison isn’t a fan of that philosophy, as evidenced by his Instagram rant over the weekend.

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” Harrision wrote. “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy.

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Manziel looks to limit similarities shared with RG3

JohnnyManzielBy DERON SNYDER

Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel have a few things in common.

Both had electrifying college careers that were big on improv and solos. Both won the Heisman Trophy at outlier schools in Texas. Both were expected to become franchise quarterbacks (under coaches no longer in place).

And the questions out-number the answers regarding both.

But two years behind RG3 in experience, Manziel wants to limit similarities down the road. He can’t go back to last year, rewind his rookie season and produce an award-winning campaign that results in a playoff berth like Griffin did right out the gate. Nothing that has transpired in Washington since then holds no interest.

Griffin started with a bang and is trying to re-ignite his flash.

Manziel has been a dud who’s trying to sparkle for the first time.

In five games, including two starts, he completed 18-of-35 passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Johnny Football was deflated.

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Stain of accusations almost as bad as arrests


At least two pro athletes had a bad week last week.

They were central figures in incidents that occurred in the wee hours, leading to police investigations and undesirable headlines. The players entered the news cycle for off-the-field matters, rarely a positive development, and they can count on related questions indefinitely. Their pro resumes have new footnotes that demand attention amidst the sea of stats and other facts.

But there’s a huge difference in the cases of Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane and former San Francisco 49ers sackmaster Aldon Smith. Half the population doesn’t notice the distinction while the other half doesn’t care. It has nothing to do with the NHL versus the NFL and it’s not about one action versus another.

Police in Santa Clara, Calif., arrested Smith on Friday morning for a hit and run, DUI and vandalism. Police in western New York announced on Friday that Kane is being investigated for an alleged rape.

Actually, police didn’t mention the exact cause in the latter case. The statement referred to “an incident that allegedly occurred at the residence of NHL player Patrick Kane last weekend.”

But we already knew what it entailed. A day earlier, The Buffalo News cited two law enforcement sources in reporting that Kane “is the target of a rape investigation.” The paper said sources said a local woman said Kane sexually assaulted her.

That’s abhorrent if true, repugnant if false.

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Sports – and the arts – are part of a good education


Nothing brings people together on a regular basis like sports.

Whether it’s 5,000 residents applauding a high school football team, 23,000 fans rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats, or 49,000 New Yorkers cheering for the Yankees, ballgames have a special place in our culture.

But sports’ place in public schools is less secure than in years past. Though fine arts education – the main competition for “extra” resources – has a more tenuous grip, sports are feeling the effect of budget cutters, too.

How do we balance one against the other? How do we acknowledge the benefits of athletic competition and support their pursuit, while simultaneously doing likewise for music and art?

Academic needs are a given; reading, math and science aren’t going anywhere. It’s the funding of extracurricular such as football and band that creates such contention.

According to Up2Us Sports, $3.5 billion was curt from school sports budgets from 2009 to 2011. The organization estimates that 27 percent of U.S. public high schools in 2020 will offer no sports programs whatsoever.

That’s not a problem in certain neighborhoods and income brackets, demographic groups that easily absorb sports fees. Up2Us says 60 percent of children who play have to pay a fee, which disproportionately affects those from low-income families.

Forget about sports as a route to pro careers. That’s a one-in-a-million situation. More important is the way sports can help youth stay in school, improve their grades, work as a team and learn conflict resolution. The way it can help them make better choices than some of their at-risk peers who don’t participate in athletics.

The U.S. Department of Education found that high school athletes are absent from class 50 percent less and are four times more likely to attend college than their non-playing counterparts. “It isn’t a sports program,” NBA No.1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns said during a recent panel discussion, according to HuffPost. “It’s an intervention program.”

The panel was sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods, which last year launched its Sports Matter initiative, a $25 million, multi-year commitment to help fund at-risk youth sports program. Among the panelists with Towns was New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, who apparently thought hyperbole was in order to warn us about decreases in sports programs.

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Got talent? Congrats! You get a second chance!


deserve [dih-zurv]: to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities, or situation.

In a song on their new album, recording artist Anthony J. Brown & group therAPy sing about being thankful that they never got what they deserved.

Truth be told, we all should feel likewise.

Maybe, like me, you never punched a woman (Ray Rice), lashed one with a belt (Junior Galette) or put welts on a child (Adrian Peterson).  We never peddled junk bonds (Michael Milken), made a fortune through insider trading (Steve Cohen) or once made Time’s list as one of the “10 most crooked CEOs” (Sam Waksal).  We don’t have a history of assault and/or addiction alongside successful TV shows, movies and albums (Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson and Chris Brown).

But most of us have done something – committed some sin of commission or omission – that warranted worse than we received. If we didn’t get away undetected, we were forgiven or excused. We were granted mercy, be it from a friend or family member, a co-worker or supervisor.

They could’ve been done with us, washing their hands and turning their back. Yet, we were given a chance or another chance, even though we arguably didn’t deserve it.

No one has a problem being on the receiving end of grace. We want it for ourselves and our loved ones.

If Rice or Galette or Peterson were our brothers, if Milken, Cohen and Waksal were our fathers, if Sheen, Gibson or Brown were our close friends, we’d encourage an organization to offer them a lifeline, to take them in and let the restoration process begin.

Here’s the thing: It helps if they’re super talented.

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