Kirk Cousins is excited about Jamison Crowder's growth, Josh Doctson's potential

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Kirk Cousins is excited about Jamison Crowder's growth, Josh Doctson's potential

Kirk Cousins says he's excited about up-and-coming receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson and what they'll add to the Redskins’ offense in 2016.

Cousins expects Crowder, who turns 23 next month, to make a significant jump in his second NFL offseason following a breakout rookie campaign.

“It’s a little bit of confidence and common sense, but when it’s your second year and you caught [that] many passes in your first year, you come in a little more confident and sure of yourself and you know what it means to be a pro now,” Cousins said.

A year ago at this time, Crowder was competing with veteran Andre Roberts for the slot receiver role. This offseason, all of those reps will belong to Crowder, who finished third on the team in catches (59) and receiving yards (604) in 2015.

The chemistry between Cousins and Crowder was apparent during Wednesday's practice, the first session of the spring open to media. On multiple occassions, Cousins completed tough passes to the shifty, 5 foot 8 playmaker as he was in full stride.

“All of that lends itself to taking another step forward,” Cousins added. “He’s a great teammate, smart player, has a natural sense of how to get open, how to run different option routes and choice routes, great natural hands and is really good after the catch pulling away from people. So, just add him of guys who we are excited about being able to throw to.”

The newest addition to that list, of course, is Doctson. Although Doctson, 23, was limited a bit this week due to a sore Achilles’ tendon, Cousins is already well aware of what the TCU product will bring to the Redskins’ offense.

Last season, tight end Jordan Reed was Washington’s biggest red zone threat. Now, Cousins will have Doctson, who is 6 foot 2, 206-pounds with a 41-inch vertical, as an option, as well.

“I went back and watched some of his highlights from TCU, and he is a special player,” Cousins said. “Looks like he can make the contested catch. It’s very natural for him to go up and catch that type of pass. He can run well. He has got great size. I almost thought he was a tight end when he showed up because if his size …having a guy like Josh could also be a great weapon in the red zone.”

The challenge for Docston over the remaining seven OTA practices will be getting more comfortable with the playbook so he can hit the ground running in Richmond. The challenge for Cousins will be identifying Doctson’s strengths and weaknesses, so he can develop the type of connection he already has with the other pass-catchers on the roster. 

“We’ll try to build that chemistry as he’s here and as we can work together and just learn what he does well and what fits him, what he is natural at and try to get him the football,” Cousins said. “We certainly can spread it around with all the talent at the outside positions.”

Which, obviously, is another challenge for Cousins, who now must find a way to keep Crowder, Doctson, Reed, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon happy. That, however, is an issue for another blog post. 

Wizards extend scouting focus to West coast

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Wizards extend scouting focus to West coast

Three of the players interviewed by the Wizards at the NBA Draft Combine withdrew their names from consideration to return to college while the team continues to scout prospects and re-organizes within.

Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson), Josh Hart (Villanova) and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue) were among the 57 early-entry candidates to retain their college eligibility by withdrawing their names before the deadline Wednesday.

The Wizards’ scouting staff is currently out West where sports agencies such as CAA Sports, Landmark, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group are holding workouts for their rookies hoping to get drafted June 23 or find a home afterwards.

Maryland’s Robert Carter, who is projected to be a late first-round or early second-round pick, is training on the campus of UCLA, a representative for Life Sports Management told CSN. He was interviewed at the combine by the Wizards.

The league held a predraft combine in Chicago two weeks ago attended by 65 players. Blossomgame, Hart and Swanigan were among the 19 they interviewed.

The Wizards don’t have any picks, opting to trade what became their No. 13 spot for Markieff Morris. Their second-round pick was shipped in a deal last year that allowed them to acquire Kelly Oubre. But they still need to comb for prospects for Las Vegas summer league and training camp. 

They’ll begin predraft workouts at Verizon Center starting June 1.

Frank Ross is likely to be promoted internally to replace the post left by Marc Eversley who left for the Philadelphia 76ers, persons with knowledge of the situation told CSN. He'd be responsible for arranging the workouts among other duties. 

Ross has been director of player personnel and would be elevated to vice president of scouting.

 

Scherzer struggles to find consistency after loss to Cardinals

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Scherzer struggles to find consistency after loss to Cardinals

Consistency is much of what separates those who are good from those who are great and Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer is no stranger to the concept.

In each of the past three seasons he's pitched over 210 innings with ERAs at 3.15 or lower. He was an All-Star in each of those years and finished no worse than fifth in Cy Young voting.

With Scherzer, you usually know what you're going to get. High strikeouts, low walks and every once in a while an outing for the history books.

Yet through 11 starts in 2016, steadiness from start to start has eluded him. There's been something off, something missing that has left him with an uncharacteristically high 4.05 ERA and an MLB-high 15 homers allowed. 

Take his walks, for instance. Over his last six outings, Scherzer has alternated between walking zero batters and walking three or more. In Friday night's loss to the Cardinals, Scherzer walked four including one with the bases loaded to score a run. In his previous start he walked nobody in eight frames at the Mets.

One day he'll have it and then the next he just won't. 

"Of course I'm upset about the walks," Scherzer said after the Nats' 6-2 loss on Friday. "It seems like I keep walking the left-handed hitters. That's the bigger thing that will frustrate me more than the walks themselves."

The two most costly walks Scherzer issued on Friday came in the third inning, the frame he allowed five runs. Both of those walks - one to Greg Garcia and one to Matt Holliday - came in counts that began with two strikes. Holliday's was with the bases loaded and scored a run. It was the first time Scherzer walked in a run since April of 2013 and just the fourth time he's ever made that mistake.

"I'm not going to beat myself up over those because I was in 0-2 counts and I ended up walking them. It's more indicative that I just didn't have put-away pitches at that point," Scherzer said.

The walks that bothered Scherzer more did not lead to runs. Those were leadoff walks to begin the first and second innings.

"I'm actually more frustrated with the first two walks more than anything, because those can lead to dangerous innings where you have the leadoff walk," Scherzer said.

Friday night was the second time this season that Scherzer has allowed four walks. In 2015, he never walked four in a game. Through 11 starts Scherzer is already at 22 walks on the season after only giving up 34 total in 33 starts last season.

The walks are one thing for Scherzer. Homers are another. And it was again the longball that did Scherzer in on Friday, this time a grand slam by Stephen Piscotty in the third inning. It was just the second grand slam Scherzer has ever given up and his first since 2010.

Piscotty got a hanging slider and walloped it over the left field fence for his first career slam. 

"It was a dumb pitch," Scherzer admitted. "I hadn't shown my fastball yet and I threw another slider and I hung it. He put a good swing on it, ended in a blast."

It was part of a sequence of sliders Scherzer threw to Piscotty and he was waiting for it.

"Including the last at-bat he threw me four straight sliders. Luckily, I got that one," Piscotty said.

Scherzer has now allowed 42 homers over the last two seasons in 44 starts, more than any other pitcher. Since July 7 of 2015, Scherzer has given up 35 homers in 28 games. 

"I know I've been giving up a ton of home runs," Scherzer said. "But that one, that's just an execution thing. That's just me not throwing the right pitch at the right time with poor execution. So that's one where you don't beat yourself up over."

It has been a confusing season for Scherzer, but luckily for the Nats it hasn't hurt them much at all. They are tied for first place with the New York Mets and still boast one of baseball's best rotations with their other four holding ERAs at 2.87 or lower. 

Scherzer is their ace, but currently qualifies as their weakest link. While he searches for consistency from start to start, his teammates remain patient and point to his body of work as a whole.

"I'll take him out there any day," shortstop Danny Espinosa said. "He goes out and competes and tonight, just didn't have everything that he wanted."

"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," center fielder Ben Revere said. "With him, he's a pitcher who could finish strong. He'll definitely be big support for us coming down the stretch because he's one of our go-to guys. He's definitely our main guy. It's just one of those games that a couple pitches got away from him. Eventually it's going to come together and he'll be the Max Scherzer that we all know."