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For Washington’s Dwayne Haskins, leadership, body top Year 2 checklist



Dwayne Haskins Jr. used to weigh about 240 pounds. Now he’s 218. Thanks to photos and videos the Washington Football Team quarterback shared on social media this offseason, it’s clear his body has transformed, along with his mobility and confidence. He hopes to do the same for his game in 2020.

For that to happen, another transformation needs to take place. In coach Ron Rivera’s first news conference in January, he referenced Haskins’ talent and added that he wanted him to improve as a leader.

So Haskins organized workout sessions with wide receivers, picked the brains of veteran quarterbacks such as Houston’s Deshaun Watson and New England’s Cam Newton, and listened to teammates.

Haskins, who enters his second season with seven NFL starts, seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions under his belt, must show that his improved leadership and conditioning are not a mirage. If he does, then Washington, coming off a 3-13 season, can feel good about the game’s most important position.

“There was a different type of attentiveness,” said Washington wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who also played with Haskins at Ohio State, “a different type of attention to detail that he’s approached this whole offseason [with] since Day 1 — all the way dating back to the end of the season.”

Showing maturity

Indeed, when Haskins met up with one of his personal quarterback trainers, Bryson Spinner, he arrived with a plan of attack for the offseason focused on every aspect of his play — from leadership to footwork to comprehension of the new offense.

For instance, because offensive coordinator Scott Turner spent the past two years with the Carolina Panthers, Spinner and Haskins went through all of the Panthers’ film. That impressed Turner when the quarterbacks began watching film via videoconferences.

In the past, Spinner was the one with an offseason plan.

“This is another stage of maturity we haven’t seen that we’ve been waiting to see,” Spinner said. “It will only get better from here the way he’s grown.”

Haskins, 23, wasn’t a leader as a rookie — appearing disinterested during a timeout in one game and missing the final snap of his first win to take a selfie with fans are examples — and numerous veterans wanted to see a better approach before they would rally to his side.

Another example, early on as a rookie, Haskins struggled to command the huddle. He wasn’t putting in the work away from the facility other players wanted to see. By season’s end, Washington’s veterans saw a change, and they say it has continued into training camp.

Washington right tackle Morgan Moses, whose locker is near Haskins’, has noticed a difference.

“When we break the huddle, even when he comes to playcalling, he’s not mumbling,” he said. “You can hear every word he says.”

That wasn’t the case in 2019.

“We understood. It’s a rookie coming into a huddle of grown men,” Moses said. “I told him, ‘Look man, when you get in that huddle, you go in there and whisper to us, it’s a respect thing. When you get in there and say, ‘Hey, man, this is the play on 2 — when you go in there with confidence, those guys are going to be locked in.’ I think he’s developed that mindset in his game.”

Big-name mentors


Stephen A. Smith sees a bright future for Dwayne Haskins with the Redskins compared to Daniel Jones with the Giants.

Haskins threw for 1,365 yards last season and improved down the stretch, but said he self-scouted his game and knew he needed to be more of a leader. It started with picking the right workouts — for instance, he targeted a weakness by working on short-area quickness via agility ropes and other drills — and working out with the right people.

He hung around teammates such as McLaurin and wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., and it was Haskins who coordinated their throwing sessions in various cities.

“That really helps with the chemistry,” McLaurin said.

Said Haskins: “With making better decisions, people start to take notice and gain some respect, so that’s how I’ve been leading.”

He also sought advice from a variety of players and ex-players — former receivers Terrell Owens (Pro Football Hall of Famer) and Chad Johnson; Cleveland Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Newton and Watson.

He’s worked often with Watson with another quarterback trainer, Quincy Avery. While doing so again in Los Angeles, they spotted Newton working out on an adjacent field. They hopped the fence and Watson, Newton and Haskins talked for a half-hour. Newton shared leadership tips, talked about what it was like to play for Rivera and ways to maximize his potential. The conversations resonated.

“It was just a great experience to share with them and knowledge about the position, about life and things we can help each other,” Haskins said. “That was a great conversation I’ll probably hold for the rest of my life.”

Newton’s main advice: Be yourself.

“It sounds cliche, but just going through what he went through in Carolina and in college for him, he’s been through a lot,” Haskins said. “Just hearing from him and listening to him about how he’s handled his situation and what was important for him for his growth.

“Then asking T.O. and Chad, who have worked with some really great quarterbacks in the past, ‘What’s this guy like? How’s QB Carson Palmer? How was [Donovan] McNabb when you were with McNabb? … And just hearing their perspective. Hearing how T.O. was when he was in San Francisco. Seeing how they grow and how they change and their process and seeing them being 40-year-old retired NFL football players.”

If Haskins truly wants to lead, it’s imperative that he can relate to a variety of different types of players — from aging vets to young stars and players who have gone through adversity. That’s a lesson he said his former offensive coordinator at Ohio State, Ryan Day, taught him.

“Being able to relate to different guys in different moments, in a game or in practice or a meeting,” Haskins said. “Knowing how to get across to someone even if it’s not the whole room. You have to be versatile in how you lead and also gain that respect. If you don’t have respect, no one’s going to listen to you or really follow you, so that’s all I’ve been trying to do is earn that.

“I’m just trying to be a great leader. If I can be a captain this year, that’s something I’m going to try to achieve.”

Mindset is a buzzword for Haskins. He not only talked to other players, he’s trying to emulate successful quarterbacks. It doesn’t happen in one offseason and Haskins has a ways to go. But he knows what he’s trying to develop: a presence. He didn’t have one last season.

“I’ve been just trying to master that same edge that a Tom Brady or Drew Brees has, [that] when he steps into a building you know he’s there,” he said. “Our offense needs a guy who’s going to take ownership and lead, and why not that be me?”

Conditioning a priority

Which leads back to Haskins getting into better shape. In order to become a leader, he had to first put in the work. His physical transformation is a result of improved eating habits — “I just eliminated toxic stuff from my life,” he said without elaborating — and many two- and three-a-day workouts in the offseason.

He would lift weights in the morning, sometimes as early as 6 a.m. Later in the morning, he’d have a throwing session with Spinner that lasted up to two hours. They would do that at least three times a week and he would lift at least four days a week. On the other days, he would run. Spinner called it a seven-day grind.

Some of Haskins’ workouts focused on improving areas like his change of direction and his play outside the pocket. He’s also added strength and looks considerably more toned than even at the end of his rookie season.

When Washington quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese saw Haskins’ videos throughout the offseason, he said, “I saw how he was serious about his conditioning, serious about his technique and working out.”

But it wasn’t just to get in shape; it was to enhance Haskins’ game. He is a pocket passer who will occasionally run, but he isn’t going to truly threaten a defense. Last season, he ran 20 times for 101 yards, but 55 of those yards came on three runs.

“The biggest growth is his mobility, his short-area quickness in the pocket,” Spinner said, “his ability to move suddenly and escape and avoid trouble. He’s always been able to throw from the pocket, he always had a solid platform when he’d throw the ball.”

During offseason drills, Haskins would be in the pocket and a receiver would fall down on purpose, forcing him to leave the pocket.

“It’s a noticeable difference in his burst when he’s taking off and decides to go,” Spinner said. “It allows him to decipher what goes on downfield and he can decide what to do with the ball. It will allow him to be more dynamic. You can’t just say, ‘Let’s keep him in the pocket.'”

Last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, Haskins completed 10 of 20 passes for 91 yards outside the pocket.

“I love throwing from the pocket and making plays,” Haskins said. “But I feel extending plays … that can be a part of my game that can be stepped up a little bit. I’m looking forward to making some plays with my feet in Year 2.”

Zampese sees another benefit.

“Not being tired,” he said. “If your body is tired, your mind gets tired and if your mind is tired the ball goes to the other team. Just because you’re in shape doesn’t mean you’re a good player, either. But it is one thing in your control. It’s always a good place to start.”

That’s what Rivera wanted to see.

One of his early comments to Haskins: “Being the leader is not just what you do on the football field, but what you do off of the football field as well.”

Based on an offseason focused on improving his leadership and conditioning, it’s clear Haskins listened.

Late in the offseason, he flew to Los Angeles for a three-day workout with Avery, Newton and Watson. His return was pushed back a day, forcing him to move a scheduled workout with Spinner from a Sunday to Tuesday. But when Haskins returned to Virginia that Sunday, one of the first things he did was call Spinner to lobby for a Monday workout.

“He’s taken that to heart and has done a great job,” Rivera said of Haskins. “He’s doing the things we need him to do, he’s being very professional about the way he’s handling himself and he’s really been very thoughtful in terms of his actions. That’s been a big plus.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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