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28Nov

predator gives thanks

(photo by Brian Murphy)

It’s common knowledge at this point that we here at Homer McFanboy have officially adopted Washington Redskins rookie safety Chris “The Predator” Horton.

So when we were wandering around the ‘Skins locker room searching for opinions on the sheer thought of quarterback Jason Campbell attempting to play hockey, we inevitably ended up checking in with Horton.

First things first, Ashford, Virginia? What’s going on here, Chris?

“I might have said Ashburn and my guy just wrote it wrong,” he said.

Do we need to get you a proof reader or something? We like the idea of you having a blog and think it could be a good way for folks to get to know you better …

“It really is,” Horton said. “I’m really sorry about that. I should have caught that.”

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way – what kind of hockey player would Jason Campbell be?

“I don’t know,” he said laughing. “He is from Mississippi, and they don’t do too much hockey down there. They probably don’t even have a team that far down south. It’ll probably turn out pretty bad for him. Just make sure there are some trainers there.”

Let’s turn the tables, what other sports can you hold your own in?

“I like to say I’m alright in volleyball,” he said. “Beach volleyball.”

Would you wear the short shorts?

“I could come out there in Speedos, if you wanted me to,” said Horton. “That’s just my personality. I could do a little bit of slow-pitch softball. None of that fast stuff. I like to say I’m a pretty good swimmer. I had a lot of good friends on the swim team when I was in college. I can compete in the backstroke, freestyle, anything.”

We’re hearing a lot of fringe sports. Guess you’re not trying to score an invite out to try hockey with Jason, huh?

“I’m not a big hockey fan,” Horton admitted. “Although I did learn what a hat trick was recently, after the Saints game. Its three goals in a row. I just found out what that was from coach [Greg] Blache. He dropped that on me in the middle of the game. He came up to me and said ‘You’ve got two [turnovers], you need a hat trick.’”

Any other sports you wanna let folks know you’re good at?

“I’m not a big fan of basketball,” he said.

UCLA is a pretty big basketball school, right?

“Yeah, but I’m too aggressive,” Horton said. “I’m too physical for basketball. It’s a soft sport. You get touched and it’s a foul. I like to play sports where there’s no penalties or where you can just blow people up. Oh, and I ran track.”

Did you know that both Santana Moss and Clinton Portis are accomplished track stars? Moss could have qualified for the Olympics, but opted to stick with football at the University of Miami and Portis was on a record-setting relay team in high school. Can you take either one of them?

“Probably not in the 100 or 200, but I think I could take these guys in the 400 [meter relay],” Horton said.

And as we were getting ready to take off, Horton stopped us. He wanted to give us a message to pass on to our neighbor kid.

“Hey Kurt, I’d just like to say that I’ve been giving you props where they’re due for that nickname,” Horton said of “The Predator” label. “It’s become a big hit and I really appreciate it. I’m taking it and running with it.”

28Nov

campbell and the caps

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Last week we chatted with Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell about his unlikely hockey fandom. A few days later, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis followed our post up by inviting Campbell to come out and skate with the team. So we figured we should be the ones to let Campbell know about the owner’s gracious offer and see if he’d actually be willing to do it after his football season concluded.

“I might take that offer up,” he said. “They’d have to teach me how to skate though. I’ve never skated.”

They’ll take it easy on you your first time out there, right?

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Campbell said. “They can’t hit me. That’s a violation.”

Can you hit them?

“If it’s the offseason, then I’m not supposed to be getting hit. I’m supposed to be recovering,” he said. “If I can’t stop and we just accidentally hit each other, then I’ll have to deal with it.”

From there, we figured we should ask a few of Campbell’s teammates what visions come to mind when picturing their franchise quarterback attempting to skate/play hockey for the first time in his life. Predictably, each player we talked to cracked up before actually attempting to answer the question.

“He’d be a goalie – because he probably can’t skate,” said tackle Jon Jansen, who knows a thing or two about cold weather sports having attended college at the University of Michigan. “I hope he does well. I hope he doesn’t hurt himself out there.”

Is he at least athletic enough to go out there and not embarrass himself?

“Oh, I’m sure he’d do fine,” Jansen said. “It’s not that hard. As long as his ankles are strong enough, he’ll be fine.”

We were greeted with more of the same confused looks and laughter as we headed to the other side of the locker room.

“Jason skating,” asked defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery with a laugh. “I can envision him falling a lot, man. If I had my way, I wouldn’t let him do it. That’s our starting quarterback and I don’t want to risk him getting injured.”

Let’s say we could get him out there and be guaranteed he’d get through it injury free. What kind of hockey player would Campbell be?

“Jason’s a real calm guy,” said Montgomery, who like Jansen, is familiar with cold weather sports thanks to his time at the University of Minnesota. “If he’s doing good or doing bad he’s got the same look on his face. I just don’t think he’d be aggressive enough [to play hockey]. Somebody smack him up against the glass or try to fight or something like that, I don’t think Jason would take part in that. I’m not saying he’s a coward or anything like that. Hockey’s just a real aggressive sport.”

Rounding out our informal poll of Redskins players, we figured we had to stop by the residential Canadian, kicker Shaun Suisham. On a hunch, we figured if anyone in the locker room knew hockey, it’d be Shazam. Turns out, we guessed right.

“I was at every home playoff game but one last season,” Suisham said. “I’ve really become a Capitals fan. I’ve only had the opportunity to get out to one game this year, but it’s a great game.”

What is it about the sport of hockey that appeals to you?

“I grew up playing hockey,” said Suisham, who manned the blueline as a defender back in the day. “I started skating at three. Football was kind of my ticket to school and all of that, but I played hockey all the way up until I left for football.”

Hypothetically speaking, what kind of hockey player would Jason Campbell be?

“Oh, I don’t think he’d be very good,” Suisham said. “He’s pretty good at what he does, but I wouldn’t think he’d be very good at skating if he’s never skated before.”

What advice would you give to Campbell if/when he gets out there?

“Hold onto the boards,” Suisham said.

27Nov

21

(photo by Brian Murphy)

In addition to Thanksgiving, today sadly marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Sean Taylor, the Washington Redskins all-world safety. At only 24 and a lifetime ahead of him, Taylor’s life was taken away by some kids who broke into his house looking to score a quick buck. The death of the enigmatic Pro Bowler sent waves throughout the NFL and sent the nation’s capital and Miami, where Taylor grew up and starred at the University of Miami, into a deep depression. How could this happen to Sean?

While everyone affected waits for the intruders to receive their judgment day, the Redskins have had no choice but to move on. A lot has changed over the past year, with names like Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams no longer a part of the organization, but many of the players say Taylor is still very much in their minds and in their hearts. This Sunday, before the Redskins take on the New York Giants, Taylor will be honored when his name is added to the Ring of Fame at FedEx Field. The ceremony figures to be a touching moment for players and fans alike.

“It’s going to be emotional,” said tackle Jon Jansen. “It’ll be an emotional time and I think it’ll be a time that everyone will remember for a long time. You can never really believe something like that happened. It’s such an unbelievable story, an unbelievable situation and a tragedy.”

Pretty much everyone in the ‘Skins locker room echoed Jansen’s comments.

“It’s definitely going to be an emotional moment,” said defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery. “He was a great football player and a great teammate. We still miss him a lot. I’m happy that they’re honoring him like that because I believe if he’d have had a full career, he’d have definitely been up there anyway. I think he’d have been a Hall of Fame player. It’s just good to honor him in that way, with his family and everything. It’s going to be special.”

Even the players who never had a chance to play on the Redskins with Taylor know this will be a special moment.

“He was just a menace,” said cornerback DeAngelo Hall. “He was a menace on the field and a great guy off the field. Me and Sean go back since college with the battles at Virginia Tech and Miami and we played together in Pro Bowls. He was just a balls-to-the wall kind of guy on every play. That was his mindset. That’s what made him so dominant.”

The Redskins will also put together a video tribute for Taylor. If it’s anything like last year’s Emmy award-winning tribute, it’s sure to be a fitting tribute to a beloved member of the Washington Redskins family.

26Nov

temporary remedy

(AP photo)

Yes, the Washington Wizards were able to snap a five-game losing streak and earn their second win of the season last night by beating the Golden State Warriors 124-100. But if you think that things are automatically “all good” in Wiz land simply because the team fired coach Eddie Jordan and replaced him with Ed Tapscott for the remainder of the season, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.

The first game after a coach is fired is usually good for a win – if for no other reason than because the players are still in that “oh crap, management noticed we’re all getting free paychecks” mindset. It’s true, you can’t fire your players in the NBA – not with their guaranteed contracts. So if you need to really shake things up, then you hope to send the proper message by firing the coach. If that doesn’t work, then you’re probably cheering for the New York Knicks.

And it’s understandable to fire “the other” Jordan, who had guided the team to an NBA-worst 1-10 record to start the season. But the problems run much deeper than a coach who seemed to have been tuned out by some of his players. Whether by design from “Big” Ernie Grunfeld or directive from owner Abe Pollin, this is a severely flawed team that is typically suited to qualify for the playoffs, and then get sent home almost immediately.

The Wizards, for as long as they’re led by forward Antawn Jamison, forward Caron Butler and oft-injured guard Gilbert Arenas, are a shoot first, defense is optional squad. They are a team content to jack up 20 footers and (who thought you’d ever hear this) without Brendan Haywood, they’re not even remotely interested in doing the dirty work in the paint on either side of the court.

Shooters go cold. Defense doesn’t.

So when teams tighten up and go into lockdown mode when the playoffs roll around, the Wiz look great one night and then struggle to score 80 points the next. But because the Wes Unseld Era Bullets/Wiz were so pitiful for so long, no one cared. As long as this team made the playoffs, there would be confetti falling from above and banners celebrating simply qualifying. Gold stars for everyone!

And even if management suddenly realized that this team has problems, there’s no easy answer in sight. The truth is, the Arenas signing this past offseason is ultimately going to take folks back to the Chris Webber days. Giving $100 million to a supposed franchise player who simply can’t stay healthy, is a sure-fire way to ensure your team goes nowhere fast. While every other team is clearing cap room to take a run at LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when they become free agents, the Wiz are helping Gilbert pick out his suit to wear on the bench each night and hoping that a 32-year-old Jamison suddenly learns how to play defense. Not good times for the home team.

So feel free to let optimism run through your mind that maybe, just maybe Tapscott is the next Bruce Boudreau and will be able to instantly right the ship the way Bruce did last season with the Capitals. But chances are, regardless of what Tapscott brings to the table, the Wizards will be cellar dwellars for the forseeable future not because of the coach, but because of the team management sends out on the floor each night.

24Nov

a lasting first impression

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Let’s flash back to a kinder, gentler time. Back when the economy wasn’t such a four-letter word and fans of teams like the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks still had reason for optimism. Let’s take a trip back to Feb. 10, 2008.

That’s the day owner Dan Snyder and right-hand man Vinny Cerrato officially introduced Jim Zorn as the newest head coach of the Washington Redskins. While the bulk of the media was only interested in covering the news of the day (i.e. – the immediate impact of the hiring), we promptly locked in on a slightly longer term vision. We had only one simple, but important, question to ask Zorn on his first day:

You were on the coaching staff in Seattle that eliminated the Redskins from the playoffs two out of the last three seasons, so you know everything the ‘Skins need to work on to be a better team, right?

“I don’t know about that,” Zorn said with a laugh. “I know that defensively … Matt Hasselbeck is a good quarterback and we had a good plan. There are great football coaches on that staff in Seattle and we put a good plan together. That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to put out your best stuff and then you plan the game and you see if what you did as a coaching staff and as a group of players was good enough to win the football game. All we need to do here – this is a winning program and a playoff team – we don’t need to revamp everything. What we need to do is just tweak all the things that are already in place to get over that hump. If there were no changes made on this coaching staff, they would be talking about the exact thing.”

We thanked him for his time and suggested that if all else fails, if Zorn can use his insider’s knowledge to help the ‘Skins finally earn a win in Seattle, the locals would be pleased with the new regime.

Fast forward to this week and well, the natives are indeed pleased because the Redskins won. Jason la Canfora of the Washington Post reports that one of the biggest reasons the ‘Skins were finally able to win out west was because the former Seahawk decided to share that insider’s info. Here’s an excerpt:

Zorn told his staff how the Seahawks had evaluated Washington’s defense before the teams’ playoff meeting in January and shared his perspective on how Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck reads the game.

On Sunday, after a 20-17 victory at Qwest Field, he gave credit to a pass rush that has been much maligned in recent years. Defensive coordinator Greg Blache used more seven- and eight-man blitzes than he had all season, and where in the past the Redskins often kept two safeties back on third-and-long situations, Sunday they attacked Hasselbeck in droves.

“Coach Zorn told us how Seattle looked at us, especially on third down,” safeties coach Steve Jackson said. “So we figured we’d vary the looks this time, and see if they could adjust to it. It worked, and we got the win.”

Later on in the story, Hasselbeck is quoted as saying, “They gave us some looks early on that we had never seen them do. It gave us some problems. It gave me some indecision.”

No one outside of the organization knows for sure if that was just a one week treat or if the defense will indeed become more aggressive. But whatever happens from here on out, just know that Zorn has more than lived up to any reasonable expectations we dreamed up (after all, how many talking heads uttered the phrase “and he’s never even been an offensive coordinator before” that day?) and this team has a very real shot at the playoffs because he’s been able to help out on both sides of the ball.

24Nov

not ready for primetime

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Pro Football Talk is reporting that the Washington Redskins game against the Ravens in Baltimore Dec. 7 has been moved from a 1 p.m. start time to NBC’s primetime slot for Football Night in America. Thanks to flex scheduling, the New England-Seattle snorefest will be removed and replaced by the “Battle of the Beltway.” But is that a good move for the Redskins? Not if this season’s results are any indication.

The ‘Skins are currently 7-4, but three of their losses have come during primetime games. The Redskins began the 2008 season with a 16-7 Thursday night loss at the New York Giants. The ‘Skins then were blown out 23-6 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Monday night “Election game” and lost to the Dallas Cowboys 14-10 the following week during the same Sunday night timeslot. So Redskins fans, I ask again – should we be happy that the team’s game has been moved from Sunday afternoon (where the team is 7-1) to primetime (with the maroon and black 0-3 in front of a national audience)?

24Nov

seahawks playlist

(photo by John Pappas)

1. “Go” by Pearl Jam

After back-to-back losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins needed to get back on track and return to the formula that brought them success earlier in the season. With that in mind, head coach Jim Zorn turned to running back Clinton Portis, who responded 143 yards on 29 carries (after rushing for just 119 yards in the last two games combined) and carried his team to their first win in nearly a month.

As he’s done for most of the season, Portis did the heavy lifting for the ‘Skins erratic offense. Although he’s still nursing a sprained knee and several other nagging injuries, the league’s leading rusher with 1,206 yards through 11 games, got better as the game went on and wore down a feisty Seahawks defense with his punishing running style. Out of his 143 yards on the day, 67 of them came during the fourth quarter (when Portis averaged a whopping 6.7 yards per carry).

Take, for example, the Redskins second-to-last drive of the game, a drive that started on their own four-yard line with just over seven minutes remaining. Clinging to a 20-17 lead, the ‘Skins turned to Portis on first down and he responded with a nine-yard run. On the next play Portis rushed for 11 yards. The third play of the drive brought more of the same, with Portis busting out a 20-yard gain. The Redskins looked to have the game all but wrapped up as they continued to move the ball with ease while simultaneously killing the clock until backup running back Ladell Betts, giving Portis a breather, fumbled the ball at the Seattle 22-yard line.

Fortunately the Redskins were able to intercept a Matt Hasselbeck pass on the next play to effectively end the game, but the truth is the Redskins could not have beaten this 2-9 Seahawks team without Portis.

2. “Outshined” by Soundgarden

Overshadowed by Portis effort was that of Seattle running back Maurice Morris, who rushed for 103 yards on just 14 carries. Morris, who primarily backs up running back Julius Jones, came into the game with 39 carries for 175 rushing yards in seven games this season, and yet, managed to gash the ‘Skins defense seemingly at will in the early stages of this game. His first carry of the day was a 44-yard explosion that would have ended in the endzone, if not for a great individual effort by safety LaRon Landry to save what could have been a back-breaking touchdown in the first quarter.

Speaking of Landry, he also made his presence known in the third quarter with an acrobatic game-changing interception of an errant Hasselback pass. Landry now has three career interceptions against the Seahawks quarterback (counting the two picks he had in the playoff loss to Seattle last season) and zero against the rest of the NFL.

3. “Grind” by Alice in Chains

Another vital cog in the Redskins offense is fullback Mike Sellers, who bulldozed Seattle defenders while blocking for the running game and also contributed to the passing game with four catches for 30 yards. Sure, he dropped a “gimme” touchdown, but Sellers made up for it the rest of the afternoon by paving the way for Portis to run all over Seattle’s Qwest Field.

It’s funny that a game featuring two supposed West Coast offenses came down to a battle of running games, but that’s exactly the case. Thanks to Portis and Sellers, the Redskins ran 30 more plays than the Seahawks (76 to 46), had nearly twice as many first downs (24 to 13) and controlled the ball for nearly 17 minutes longer than Seattle (38:27 to 21:33). It’s hard to win the game when you can’t get your defense off the field, and in the rare moments Seattle offense was in the game, Hasselbeck split his passes evenly between Seahawk receivers and Redskins defenders (two touchdown and two interceptions).

4. “Down” by Stone Temple Pilots

Portis (knee and hip), Defensive end Andre Carter (foot), defensive tackle Kedric Golston (ankle), and defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin needed medical attention at various points during the game. Wide out Malcolm Kelly and cornerback Shawn Springs were back in action after extended absences due to injury. Injuries are a part of the game and every team is battling this issue this deep into the season, but if the ‘Skins are going to continue to win, they need to catch a break or two in the injury department. It goes without saying that if Portis or wide out Santana Moss aggravate an injury and are sidelined for long, then the offense is in serious trouble. And the fourth-ranked defense needs guys like Griffin and Carter healthy as they head into the last month of the season – especially against physical opponents like the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens.

5. “Come as You Are” by Nirvana

It wasn’t pretty, but in the end Jim Zorn was able to get a victory over head coach Mike Holmgren because he went back to basics. Recent history shows that the Redskins are at their best when they’re able to run and stop the run. Portis did more than his fair share to help the ‘Skins improve to 7-4, but the Redskins run defense should be an area of concern.

If the Redskins are realistically going to be a playoff contender this year, then they need to tighten up against the run. Morris’ 103-yard effort follows Cowboys running back Marion Barber’s 24-carry, 114-yard night one week ago. While Barber is among the league’s elite, Morris hadn’t rushed for 100 yards since 2006. Watching the game, one couldn’t help but noticed the Redskins undersized front seven getting pushed around and beaten by the Seahawks offensive line at the point of attack. Yes, the Redskins secondary is among the deepest in the NFL, but teams are going to see the film of the Seahawks and Cowboys running all over the ‘Skins front seven and continue to try and exploit the problem until adjustments are made.

On offense, the Redskins just need to continue to try and mix things up. Portis is the work horse, but a dependable passing game will prevent defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage in an all-out effort to shut Portis down. The touchdown quarterback Jason Campbell threw to wide out Antwaan Randle El was a perfect example of what this offense can do. In a five-receiver set, Campbell found Randle El, who had cut behind tight end Chris Cooley in a crossing pattern, for an eight-yard score. Plays like that are going to be vital down the stretch if the ‘Skins have any hope of keeping defenses honest and, more importantly, keeping Portis healthy.

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