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FINLAY: A lifetime of football, helped shaped by Dad

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FINLAY: A lifetime of football, helped shaped by Dad

Never rooted for the Steelers in my life. Didn’t hate them, but as a kid, they just weren’t much on my radar. Their glory years predated me, and the mystique of the Black and Gold meant little to me in 1996.

Still, I made very clear to my dad we were rooting for the Steelers. It made sense, of course, to root for Pittsburgh as the only other option was the Cowboys. At that age, growing up in D.C., there was simply no way I could root for Dallas. 

For me as a teenager, going to the Super Bowl was the peak of my existence. An unreal spectacle, and more importantly, the pinnacle of football. It didn’t matter that the Cowboys were playing, my dad and I were at the Super Bowl. The experience trumped the contestants, and eventually, the result.

My dad moved to America in the mid-1970s. He never loved football, but he loved me. As early as I can remember I loved the sport, loved playing it, loved watching it, and even as a young kid, loved writing and talking about it. 

My dad drove me to football practices. My dad drove me to football games. He watched me play, and together, we watched plenty of others play. 

How he made a Super Bowl trip happen I’m still not sure. My stepmom pulled a billion strings to get us tickets, and luckily, we had family friends in Arizona we could stay with. No chance we could swing the hotel prices of Super Bowl week, but only having to figure out airfare, my parents made it work. 

As much as I remember the game, the scene I remember most was the lobby of some downtown Phoenix hotel where we picked up our tickets. A scene I now know, for my young eyes, it was incredible. Players walked around, coaches, GMs, just about anybody associated with the NFL walked through that lobby. 

I was a precocious kid, and even then, obsessed with sports media. I’ll never forget seeing Peter King and tugging on my dad’s shirt. 

“Dad, that’s Peter King!”

“Who’s that?”

“Dad! He writes for Sports Illustrated!”

Dad certainly didn’t know who he was, but he encouraged me to go over to speak with him. I went. King could not have been nicer as I drilled him with questions about the Redskins quarterback controversy. Heath Shuler or Gus Frerotte. At the time, it was the most pressing issue in my universe. 

Looking back now, I wonder if the palpable buzz of that hotel lobby in some way got me where I am now. I’ll never know. 

What I do know is I never would have gotten where I am without my father. And now he’s gone. 

He passed on Master’s Sunday, somewhat suddenly. While it’s shocking and incredibly hard, he also went peacefully, surrounded by family. As far as going goes, it’s what many hope for. 

The days since have been tough. I’m not sure what will come ahead. I’ll miss him everyday of my life, and I will think about him often. I have my own young daughter to raise now, and while she will never really know my dad, I hope to show her his personality. 

I haven’t written about the Redskins in almost a week. I’m not sure that’s happened, in some blog or other capacity, in nearly a decade. Or maybe more. Or maybe less. I’m honestly not sure. 

What I am sure of, when it mattered, my dad loved football. Because he loved me. 

And I love him too. I’m going to get back on my feet and back on the beat and attack news and information like I have the past year. I’ll try to have fun along the way as well, like I think I have for the past year. 

Plenty of folks have lost their dad. I’m not unique, and I’m much luckier than many. I know that and appreciate it. 

Thanks for indulging me on this story. Maybe you learned something about me. I learned a lot about myself. I’ll close with this: Give your loved ones a hug. Life can be fleeting. Chase your joys. Love life and be good to one another. 

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

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