From Comcast SportsNetPete Carroll and John Schneider were overjoyed during the April NFL draft when the Seattle Seahawks were able to grab Russell Wilson in the third round.Even they couldn't anticipate that Wilson would be the Seahawks' Week 1 starter.Carroll announced Sunday night that the undersized, but highly successful rookie quarterback from Wisconsin will be the starter when the Seahawks open the regular season on Sept. 9 at Arizona. Wilson beat out Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson -- in the process of being traded to Buffalo -- for the starting gig."It's been a very exciting competition that has gone on and Russell has taken full advantage of his opportunities and has done everything that we have asked for on the field and more than what you guys could know off the field in meeting rooms and with our players and how he's represented. He's earned this job," Carroll said on a conference call Sunday night. "It was a legitimate competition as we said from the beginning and with the opportunity he's taken advantage of he deserves to start."Wilson has been a dynamic star during the preseason. For the first two weeks, his performance came against backups during the second halves of victories over Tennessee and Denver.But what Wilson displayed during those two halves were enough for Carroll to give him the start Friday night against Kansas City. Wilson's response: 13-of-19 passing for 185 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 134.8. And if he didn't show enough with his arm, Wilson added another 58 yards rushing.His total preseasons numbers thus far are eye-popping: 35 of 52 (67.3 percent) for 464 yards, five touchdowns and a league-leading 119.4 QB rating. Wilson's only preseason mistake was throwing a careless end zone interception against Tennessee.Otherwise, Wilson's been almost perfect."This isn't just based on the quarters we've seen him play. This is based on the practice and the challenges that he's undertaken here on the practice field," Carroll said. "We've combined everything and with the circumstances that have been presented he won this opening challenge here."Wilson's most recent performance had Seattle fans buzzing, with Twitter overrun with "Russellmania" comments Friday night as he picked apart the Chiefs. As the game progressed, most began accepting the idea that Wilson would be the starter.Carroll said Wilson took the news in stride."He expects to be good and he expects to be successful and he expects to make plays," Carroll said.Wilson has been able to pick up the Seahawks offense quicker because of his experience playing in a West Coast offensive system in college. He spent his first three seasons at North Carolina State before transferring for his final year to Wisconsin. In Madison, Wilson led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl and was named the first-team, all-Big Ten quarterback."He is so prepared. He doesn't seem like a first-year player," Carroll said. "He seems like he's been around. He gets it, he understands and he is a tremendous leader in that way. He doesn't do anything but the right thing in all of his work and his preparation and his competitiveness has been demonstrated again."Wilson being named the starter leaves Flynn on the sidelines and according to Carroll understandably disappointed. Flynn was Seattle's big free-agent splash in the offseason and the most highly sought after quarterback not named Manning after spending the last few seasons as Aaron Rodgers backup in Green Bay. But Flynn failed to show the same flashes as Wilson during his two preseason opportunities and sat out the game in Kansas City with a sore elbow.Flynn's injury isn't considered to be severe, but sitting out against the Chiefs didn't help his case for the job."Matt's done a great job for us in every way, just the opportunities didn't seem to come in as big a way as it did for Russell," Carroll said. "He made the most of his."
After another early playoff exit, the Capitals find themselves at a bit of a crossroads. With multiple expiring contracts and an aging core that has yet to carry this team past the second round, what direction is this team headed? Do the Caps need to make drastic changes to fix what ails them or makes just a few tweaks to finally get them over the hump?
It’s not an easy question to answer and there was no real consensus from the players at team’s breakdown day.
“I don't know if minor cosmetic changes are going to change anything really,” Matt Niskanen said.” It's pretty clear that this group didn't get it done so what changes and how many or what level of changes, I don't know what the answer is. Talent wise and our potential was clearly there. That's all fluff now. We need results.”
“I think any time you underachieve at what you're trying to do, you know there's going to be changes,” Brooks Orpik said. “That's just part of the business that we're in.”
“Obviously it's not working,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “I'm sure the organization will figure that out and try again.”
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Given this team’s history, especially in the Ovechkin era, it seems hard to argue that something significant needs to change because the formula there does not seem to be working. But not everyone agrees.
“I still think there's a window next year,” Lars Eller said. “I think there will be enough of the core intact that you could still make a play. First thing is you have to get into the playoffs, once you're in the playoffs you have a chance to win.”
“We’re going to be good again,” Tom Wilson said. “There's a lot of great pieces that are here that are core guys that have long contracts still that instill the right things in the group.”
“I think we're in the right position for sure and I think we will be stronger next year for sure,” Evgeny Kuznetsov said.
Then there are the guys who just don’t know, the guys who think the team will try to win but that the team’s chance of winning the Cup may now be in the rearview mirror.
“The nice thing is that we all know the organization does what it takes to put a good product on the ice and try to win," Karl Alzner said. "Whether there's a lot of changes and new faces next year, it's still going to be a team that is trying to win and that's a nice thing. … But yeah, this is a pretty good window that we had here and unfortunately, it's not there anymore.”
For his part, you can put head coach Barry Trotz down as someone who wants to see the team make only minor changes and try again next season.
“I know people talk about the window closing, the window doesn't close, it just changes a little bit because the window of all those pieces that have been here for six, seven years or whatever, they're going to change doesn't mean that you can't add pieces that may even be better. You see that all the time.”
Sure, you could file this down as a “What is he supposed to say?” comment. Major changes can often mean a coaching change so it’s not surprising to see him advocate against rebuilding. But Trotz was also adamant that the team was close to reaching its championship goal and cautioned that now was not the time to turn over the roster.
“This league is so unpredictable and sometimes so random that it's hard to grasp sometimes even as an organization or fans or media, to grasp how close you are from winning and how close you are from losing. You talk about inches, it might be millimeters. That's how close it is. Changes in momentum, a big save here, a fortunate goal here or a timely goal changes a series or momentum swing.”
“We're disappointed that we didn't reach our goal,” Trotz added, “It doesn't mean that we're not going to keep striving for our goal.”
But even if general manager Brian MacLellan agrees, there are going to be several players who will not be returning to Washington next season. Even after advocating minor tweaks, Trotz also acknowledged, “Group's going to change. That's just the financial part of it.”
With 11 free agents on the active roster heading into the offseason, as well as 14 more among their prospects and minor league players, and not enough cap space to pay them all, MacLellan is going to have to make some tough decisions regarding who to bring back and who to let go. Whether he agrees with those advocating for major changes or those who believe only minor tweaks are necessary will determine how he approaches the team’s free agents.
As much disagreement as there is within the team, there seems to be one thing everyone can agree on: The Caps are going to look like a very different team next season.
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Last fall, Vernon Davis scored a touchdown in a Redskins win over the Vikings. Immediately following, he used the football in place of a basketball and made a jump shot over the cross bar. It was a cool, spontaneous celebration for his second TD of the season.
Seconds later, a penalty flag hit the ground. Davis was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for using the ball as a prop. In a league with a tremendous amount of awful penalties, it ranked as one of the worst of the season.
The good news? In 2017, Davis' celebration will no longer draw a flag.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell penned a letter explaining the changes:
We are relaxing our rules on celebrations to allow players more room to have fun after they make big plays. We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown. And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements.
In a league committed to Thursday Night Football - which both players and fans dislike - as well as archaic policies on social media and substance abuse, this is a rare, positive development.
It's okay to let players have a little fun, show some personality. Goodell made clear that lewd celebrations would still be flagged, and that's reasonable. Using the ball as a prop, however, shouldn't be. Now, it won't.
Did Davis break the NFL? Probably not, though his penalty is often the first thing people point to when discussing the absurdity of the ball as a prop rule.
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