Photo: Ned Dishman/NBA and Getty Images
Photo: Ned Dishman/NBA and Getty Images

Washington Wizards Must Grit Through Slow Start

The Washington Wizards haven’t quite enjoyed the storybook season some fans saw just around the corner after last season’s furiously exhilarating finish. Despite bowing out of the 2017 NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics in a climactic seven-game series, there was plenty to be optimistic about looking toward the future.

For fans and players alike, the future is still very much just that: a promise for a better tomorrow. The current iteration of the Wizards still seems to be stuck in the mud, as yet another promising season has started slow, including puzzling losses, injuries and plain old bad luck. The team with aspirations of reaching the third round (or even the NBA Finals for those true optimists) are sitting at a remarkably unspectacular 11-10.

Some of this can be chalked up to uncontrollable factors, such as starting power forward Markieff Morris being injured in training camp or John Wall hurting his shoulder, which caused him to miss an elongated period of time. However, not all of it can be attributed to poor health.

“Sometimes the issues are self-inflicted,” Wizards Color Analyst Kara Lawson says. “I think [where] they can improve the most is on the defensive side of the ball. They’re better than where they were a season ago. They’re still giving up too many points in the paint and in the defensive rebounds; those are areas that statistically stick out the most.”

Bullets Forever Editor Jake Whitacre also pointed out problems the team has in the clutch. According to a recent article, the team has routinely struggled with close games since the inception of the team’s current core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

“It looked like the team finally turned the corner last season, when they outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter after three years of being on the other end,”  Whitacre writes.  “So far this season, they’ve gone to old habits in a bad way. Their net rating so far this season is -6.6. The only teams who have posted worse fourth quarter numbers this season are the Heat, Bucks, Bulls and Timberwolves.”

Unlike fans, skeptics and the media, players on the Wizards are still confident. And for good reason, as much of the unit is unchanged from last season’s team, which shook off a near cataclysmic record of 3-9 to eventually win 49 games.

“I’m always confident in my team,” Beal says. “I feel like we’re the best team in the East, but we still have to prove it. I think we have all the pieces, and we’re an experienced team. We’ve been there before, so we know what it takes to get over the hump now. Hopefully, we can put it together.”

Despite their slow start, the Wizards have flashed basketball brilliance, dropping two close games to the NBA Finals contestants last season, falling 120-117 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors and nearly overcoming a tremendous performance by basketball savant – and likely half machine/half alien – LeBron James in a scintillating 130-122 contest against defending Eastern Conference champion the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Though the team has given fans glimpses of what they can do against the league’s best, they’ve also struggled against the cellar dwellers of the NBA as well, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns. If any team personified the term “feast or famine,” it’s the Wizards.

Seemingly the only obstacle standing in Washington’s way is itself, as the team has clearly risen, and dropped, to the level of its competition. Consistency against bad and good alike is what’s required to help the team raise the bar.

“I still think they’re the second best team when whole,” Lawson says. “You have to start with Cleveland in the East; it’s just so difficult to guard LeBron James. I still think that’s the team the conference goes through.”

The Wizards are still arguably the first, second or third best team in the league, and offer three all-star caliber players in Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. when healthy. But in the standings, they sit at a disappointing seventh. There’s obviously still a tremendous amount of basketball left to be played, and it’s safe to assume the panic button has yet to be pressed in the nation’s capital. But at some point, the team will have to rebound from this start, and hopefully the players, coaches and fans can rally once more.

Learn more about the Washington Wizards and the team’s 2017-2018 season at www.nba.com/wizards.

Photo: Courtesy of Washington Wizards
Photo: Courtesy of Washington Wizards

Game Changer: Wizards Analyst Kara Lawson

If you’ve tuned into a Wizards game this season on NBC Sports Washington, then you’ve already become acquainted with the voice of the team’s new color analyst, Kara Lawson. In the offseason, Lawson became the second woman to assume the role of primary television game analyst when she replaced the legendary Phil Chenier.

Before stepping behind the microphone, or wearing one, Lawson was a little girl hurling a kickball toward a rim in Alexandria, Virginia. In her teens, she became a worthy opponent of the men at her local rec center, and eventually traveled south to play college ball at the University of Tennessee for the late all-time great coach Pat Summitt.

During her days in the WNBA, Lawson moonlighted as a part time, in-studio analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN. Eventually the side gig turned into her primary career, making history along the way. At the quarter mark of the NBA season, we had a chance to chat with Lawson about the game of basketball and her life as a full-time hoop head.

On Tap: What motivated you to start broadcasting during your playing career?
Kara Lawson: I started broadcasting right after my rookie season in the WNBA, so this is my fifteenth year. It’s rare that I’m so young in life, but have so much experience. I was sort of ready-made because I started while I was playing. A lot of current players, they can’t do that because the calendar doesn’t work. When I first started, I just did a few games here and there, and once ESPN got more serious and the money went up, I knew it was becoming more of a focus for me. I initially looked at it as a side gig, but I realized this was something I could do as a standalone career. Midway through my WNBA career, ESPN gave me more security, and that pushed me toward full-time.

OT: Who are some of the people in the industry that gave you memorable advice?
KL: One of the first people who helped me was Annie Meyers. She was the lead analyst in women’s basketball, and she reached out to see if I had any questions. We’ve maintained correspondence through the years, and not even necessarily about basketball. I had dinner with Robin Roberts, and she had moved from Bristol to New York City for Good Morning America. Her presence was powerful, and for me being a female and a minority, especially 15 years ago, she gave me advice that was unique to me about what I would face in the industry.

OT: In 2007, you became the first woman to be a color analyst on a nationally televised NBA game. What’s it like looking back on that?
KL: A lot of times as a woman, it kind of takes something just happening before you get an opportunity. I was supposed to do a game as a sideline reporter, and the analyst couldn’t get into the city because of an ice storm. They called me during game day and told me I had to call the game. I wasn’t thinking about anything – I just knew I needed to start preparing. Maybe that helped me because I didn’t have time to process it and get nervous. Looking back, it’s really cool, and it’s awesome to be the first at something. Back then, it didn’t even really get brought up. Now, you look at all these women who do it nationally, and it’s very cool.

OT: Do you think the stigma of women doing broadcast work for professional sports has been lifted?
KL: Well, it’s certainly more open than in the past, but [is it] as open as it should be? Probably not yet. I’m fortunate to work for ESPN, who is the most open to putting women in positions like that. I hope other networks will continue – or start – to give women more opportunities in those places where it’s traditionally men, because if you look up and down [at] rosters for play by play and analysts, it’s predominantly men. I think local and conference networks are getting better and better. Look at NBC Washington giving me the opportunity; I think local television is starting to catch on even quicker.

OT: Have you received any negative feedback from Wizards fans because you’re a woman in your position?
KL: There’s a subjectivity that we all carry; you might prefer one news anchor to another. I don’t think I’ve had many ignorant interactions or messages, but there are definitely people who say, “It’s not my cup of tea,” and that’s okay. That’s never bothered me. That’s not knocking my credibility. I’m from DC, people know me here, and know my story and background. I haven’t had people say much, because they know I’ve been around the hoops scene here for more than 20 years.

OT: Have you accomplished all of your goals in broadcasting?
KL: I was able to check off [becoming] an analyst for an NBA team and [being] immersed in the league. I had two big ones: to call the women’s Final Four, and I did that last spring, [and] in a matter of four or five months, I accomplished the other goal, which was to be an analyst for a team. It’s pretty interesting and I think it’s a good lesson, because it took me 14 years to achieve it. It’s a good lesson of being patient and continuing to work. At some point, you have to be able to take advantage of your opportunity.

OT: When were you first introduced to the game of basketball?
KL: My dad introduced me to sports in general. I can remember [being] as young as three or four years old. I was allowed to dribble the ball in the house, downstairs in our basement. We had a park in our neighborhood, and I’d go over and play by myself. I used a Wonder Woman kickball, because I wasn’t strong enough to shoot a regular basketball.

OT: When did you first realize you wanted to play professional basketball?
KL: In fifth grade, I got my first recruiting letter from the University of Virginia. That was my state school. It had a bunch of really good players, and they had been to the Final Four a bunch of times. I thought that would be something really cool – to go to college and play basketball on a scholarship. That’s when I set the goal that that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in the NBA; I figured I was better than all the boys now, so why not be better than all of them down the road?

OT: Do you have a favorite moment on your basketball journey?
KL: It’s hard to pick one because I’ve really enjoyed all of it – from playing in the DC rec centers to all the great friends I’ve kept up with from high school. Those were great times. Getting a chance to play for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee was the best of the best; my relationship with her was so valuable. I don’t think I could have gone anywhere else to get [those] lessons from anyone. She was really the person who jump-started my career in television, and she thought it was important for me to be comfortable as a communicator. I [wouldn’t be] doing what I’m doing now if she [hadn’t] had me work on my communication skills when I was 18 years old.

Visit www.nba.com/wizards for more information on the Washington Wizards, and follow Kara Lawson on Twitter at @karalawson20.

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Washington Redskins Josh Norman Presents A Night with the Starz

Washington Redskins Corner Back Josh Norman hosted his Inaugural Night with the Starz at The Watergate hotel to benefit his charitable foundation, Starz24. Guests enjoyed dinner and drinks, a special interview session with Josh and the chance to win fabulous items in the silent and live auctions.

The mission of Josh Norman’s Starz24 Foundation is to provide enrichment to children through community events and youth programs. With an emphasis on fitness and teamwork, Starz24 challenges youth to participate and excel in areas that help develop strong interpersonal skills and awareness of the world around them. Photos: Mark Van Bergh

Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Chris Thompson Amps Up Redskins’ Offense

It took five seasons, but Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson finally feels at home in the National Football League.

The former Florida State standout struggled to find his footing in the team’s offense during his first four years in Washington. While Thompson occasionally gave fans and coaches glimpses of the dangerous triple-threat offensive weapon he would become, injuries and inexperience kept him relegated mostly to the sidelines.

Until this season, that is. During the Redskins’ first six games of 2017, the Greenville, Florida native emerged as a breakout offensive star, leading the team in rushing and receiving. Sounding relieved, enlightened and newly confident in his career, Thompson told On Tap Magazine during a half-hour telephone conversation that a revamped approach to the game, including a healthier diet and mindset,  has helped carry him to a higher level of play.

“This is probably the most confidence I’ve had in myself since college,” Thompson said. “I really didn’t know if I was good enough to play in this league for a long time,” the veteran back added, explaining how he developed a bad habit of measuring himself against other NFL rushers with similar styles but different team circumstances or physical attributes. “I would compare myself to them, but that was the wrong way of going about it. I am who I am and I need to be the best self that I can.”

The average career of an NFL player is less than three years, so Thompson’s five seasons in the league is extraordinary – especially considering he is just 5 feet 7 inches tall and less than 190 pounds. The suddenly pivotal Redskins playmaker said he’s comfortable as the team’s second back, and happy in his role as a playmaker who can help the team convert big third downs while avoiding the punishing load of repetitive carries between tackles.

It’s not that Thompson doesn’t want the ball more – he insisted he does – but he said he trusts head coach Jay Gruden’s plan for him. The quick-shifting running back also credited a long line of coaches who taught him to compensate for his lack of size with a well-rounded game.

“My coaches really worked hard to make sure I was a good, all-around back,” Thompson said. “Being a smaller guy, my skill set had to be very diverse. I needed to be a pass catcher; obviously a good runner and have good pass blocking, and even be a possible kick or punt return man. I’ve worked on all that my whole life.”

Thompson said he’s worked hard to adjust to the speed of the game since arriving in the NFL. He’s no slouch in the speed department himself, clocking 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. But he said in the pros, even the bigger guys seem to move in a flash.

“The slower guys play quicker than they do in college because they see things before they develop,” Thompson explained. “That comes with time and experience. With this being my fifth year, I’ve been able to get a really good feel for the mental side of the game, too. I’ve been able to slow the game down a little bit.”

He also said curbing a serious sugar jones – no easy feat for a self-described candy addict – helped him trim seven pounds off of his already compact frame in the last off-season. Thompson now plays at 188 pounds compared to the 195 he played at in 2016.

“I cut my body fat down a lot and that’s helped me with quickness, and I’ve been able to turn that fat into muscle,” he said. “I’ve lost some weight, but I feel more explosive.”

While experience and hard work have helped Thompson establish himself in the NFL even despite his own misgivings, his head coach never doubted him.

“He’s a great pass protector, a great route runner,” Gruden said of Thompson before this season began.

“He has great value in the National Football League.”

The confidence has been contagious.

“Jay told me from the jump, ‘You’re my guy,’” Thompson said. “To have a coach who believes in you, and has no doubt about your game and your skill set, brings an added confidence. You just feel like you can conquer whatever you want to do.”

Learn more about the Redskins’ 2017-2018 season at www.redskins.com.

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DJ Chris Styles at Nationals Park

Nationals fans attended the pre-game party with DJ Christ Styles outside the stadium on Friday night and enjoyed cold Bud and Bud Light while the Nationals warmed up to play the Cubs in the first round of playoffs. Photos: Devin Overbey

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Washington Capitals Focus On Youth As Key Veterans Depart

Following another early exit from the playoffs, the Washington Capitals are eager to get back to hockey and put the specter of last season behind them. To aid in that effort, a new team identity has been built that’s largely dependent on its young talent, following years of leaning heavily on a veteran-laden lineup.

The Capitals really have no other choice. Pressed up against the salary cap limit mandated by the league, general manager Brian MacLellan was forced to make some tough personnel decisions during the offseason. As a result, six veterans who had been on last year’s roster found themselves on new teams this summer, including talented forward Marcus Johansson, who had 58 points last year but was traded to the New Jersey Devils for draft picks to create cap space.

The freed-up money did allow MacLellan to retain first-line winger T.J. Oshie and hand out new deals to several other key players, so Washington is still loaded with experienced players at all positions. But head coach Barry Trotz knows that there are openings for several of the team’s young talent, and he expects them to impress this coming season.

“The younger players are more ready than they’ve ever been,” Trotz told On Tap. “We’ve been a veteran team the last few years and there hasn’t been a lot of competition for spots. We’re now back to getting some young guys into the lineup, which is okay. I think it’s needed.”

Trotz acknowledged that a lot of leadership experience exited this summer, and the team likely will not be as lethal offensively. Still, after being pegged as one of the top three teams in the league in recent years and having every other team gunning for them, this year’s more nondescript squad may have a chance to surprise other teams and finally get to that ever-elusive third round of the playoffs.

Rookies Riley Barber, Christian Djoos, Jakub Vrána and Madison Bowey, among others, were all expected to get long looks at training camp and exhibition games. And returning players like Andre Burakovsky, Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly and Taylor Chorney are being counted on to move up in the depth chart and assume bigger roles.

“We’ve got structure, leadership and commitment,” Trotz said. “The biggest difference is on the back end, and up front, we’re not as proven.”

The Capitals still boast an impressive collection of players that is the envy of many teams, starting with superstar Alex Ovechkin. The captain saw his goal production dip from 50 goals to 33 last year, and another early playoff exit at the hands of the archrival Penguins had some pundits wondering whether it was time to trade Ovie and conduct a vast overhaul.

Instead, Washington did some retooling and kept the team largely intact. Trotz is impressed with the work put in over the summer by Ovechkin, who looked noticeably leaner when he reported early for summer workouts.

“One of the things you look to do is evolve as a player,” Trotz said. “I think Alex is at that point in his career where he recognizes there’s still evolution to his game. As you get older, the game changes. It’s gotten way faster the past 10 years. I think he’s training to be faster. He’s probably a little leaner and lighter. He’s still very powerful – a big man. He’s making some adjustments.”

Also under the microscope will be star center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract over the summer. Part of the plan to sign Kuznetsov and others included allowing some players to walk in order to create the necessary cap space, including Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik and trade deadline pickup Kevin Shattenkirk. In addition, Johansson was traded and Nate Schmidt was scooped up by the new Vegas Golden Knights team during the expansion draft.

Kuznetsov’s point totals dropped from 77 to 59 last season, but Trotz is expecting a return to form for the young Russian. Veteran star center Nicklas Bäckström – who had 86 points last season – returns, as do key defensemen John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov. The team’s last line of defense, goaltender Braden Holtby, will also be back to provide a workhorse presence between the pipes. Holtby is a Vezina trophy winner for the league’s top netminder, and is one of the best at his position.

All of which leaves Trotz confident that the Capitals will once again be a dangerous hockey team, despite some of the personnel changes.

“We’re probably not as deep as we were, but we have some high-end players. As long as we can stay healthy, I think we’re going to be a team still fighting for our division and making the playoffs.”

Hopefully for the fans and the city, the Capitals are able to punch through this year and dispatch the Penguins and other foes along the way. With expectations a bit lower than previous years, perhaps Washington will be able to surprise their faithful followers this season.

Learn more about the Washington Capitals and their upcoming season at www.nhl.com/capitals, and don’t miss the first home game on Saturday, October 7 at 7 p.m. against the Montreal Canadiens.

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Country Day at Nationals Park

Nationals fans enjoyed a pre-game country themed party before the game against the Braves, with live music from country singer Shane Gamble, a mechanical bull and tons of ballpark snacks. Fans enjoyed plenty of ice cold Bud and Bud Light. Photos: Kayla Marsh

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman

Rowing In The DMV

Autumn in the District is perhaps the most stunning season in our city, conjuring up vivid images of fall foliage and breathaking views of the Potomac River. But there is nothing quite like being out on the water, gliding past sightseers, with the singular sound of four oars pulling in complete unison as your sole focus. Whether you’re in search of a new sport or just want to enjoy the view during one of many fall regattas, read on to get the inside scoop on the DMV’s rowing community. We caught up with six rowers to get a sense of why people fall in love with the sport, why it’s so popular in the DMV, and how newbies or returning rowers can get involved.


Alexandria Community Rowing Club
Jennifer Bright, Rower

 On Tap: How has the DMV’s rowing community changed in recent years?
Jennifer Bright: The variety of rowing clubs and programs has grown over the last decade, and residents in the DMV can find a program that fits their skill level, competitive interest, time and location needs.

OT: Why do you row?
JB: I love the community of rowers. This sport brings together men and women from so many disciplines. The common factor is love of the sport and commitment to pursuing the perfect stroke.

OT: Any opportunities for rowers this season?
JB: Starting in November, ACR will begin the winter training program. Community members [can volunteer or compete on] February 17-18 at the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints, the second largest indoor rowing competition in the world.

Learn more about ACR at www.rowalexandria.com, and February’s MidAtlantic Erg Sprints at www.ergsprints.com.


Anacostia Community Boathouse Association
Jennifer Ney, President

On Tap: What makes rowing both challenging and rewarding?
Jennifer Ney: Rowing is the ultimate team sport. It demands both power and finesse to achieve boat speed. Rowing demands balance, synchronicity and coordination, and every member of the crew must work together. I love the challenge.

OT: What’s unique about the ACBA?
JN: The Potomac River [is] considered [a] hotbed for rowing and paddling. The Anacostia Community Boathouse has placed the Anacostia River on the map.

OT: How can we get involved?
JN: Check out one of our three clubs who host a wide array of programs. All three host on-the-water programming from March through November: Capital Rowing Club, DC Strokes and Prince William Rowing Club.

Learn more about ACBA at www.anacostiaboathouse.org.


Capital Rowing Club
Heidi Scalzott, Learn to Row Rep

On Tap: Tell us about CRC’s Learn to Row program.
Heidi Scalzott: The next [Learn to Row] class session begins September 30.

OT: What other programs does CRC offer?
HS: Rowers who have some experience but haven’t rowed in awhile sometimes feel more comfortable joining intermediate rowing. Capital also has sculling classes, an adaptive rowing program and a juniors’ program. For more experienced rowers, we also have a competitive men’s and women’s team. Finally, Capital offers a “Your Team” rowing for private rowing sessions.

OT: What do you enjoy most about being in the CRC community?
HS: Capital is as much a social club as it is a rowing club: both a.m. and p.m. meet for happy hour and plan other social events both at the boathouse and throughout DC. Many good friendships and even a few weddings have emerged as a result of rowing with Capital.

Learn more about CRC and the next Learn to Row session on September 30 at www.capitalrowing.org.


DC Strokes Rowing Club
Brian Forehand, President

On Tap: What is DC Strokes’ mission?
Brian Forehand: We are the oldest LGBTQ+ rowing club in the world. Inclusion is an important part of our mission, and we welcome gay and straight rowers of diverse backgrounds. DC Strokes was founded on the belief that everyone should have access to the sport of rowing and its many benefits.

OT: Has the club made any changes recently to promote inclusivity? 
BF: This season, DC Strokes proudly adopted our “Statement of Inclusion and Transgender & Non-Binary Identity Policy” that reinforces our support and advocacy for all LGBTQ + Ally athletes, and creates a safe and supportive environment for transgender and non-binary individuals at a time when we startlingly see the rights of these individuals infringed upon throughout the nation.

OT: How do we join?
BF: We welcome individuals of all levels – no prior experience necessary! We offer two Learn to Row sessions. Folks with at least one year of prior experience are welcome to join our competitive  program or our club program.

Learn more about DC Strokes at www.dcstrokes.org.


Prince William Rowing Club
Al Wilson, President

On Tap: Any PWRC events this fall for beginners?
Al Wilson: Come check out one of PWRC’s free Learn to Row events! We’ll give you a tour of the boathouse and a history of our club, teach you the basics of the rowing stroke using a rowing machine, then give you an opportunity to try rowing on the water with some of our members. We plan to offer one Learn to Row on September 17.

OT: Any other opportunities to get involved in the coming months?
AW: In November, our annual membership meeting will be open to the public, and we welcome all who are interested in learning more about our club and about getting involved in the sport of rowing.

OT: Why would you recommend PWRC to local rowers?
AW: Here in the DC and Northern Virginia area, we have amazing water to row on and a big diversity of residents who work hard and are looking for a way to be fit, have fun and relax in the great outdoors. We love to teach people to row, compete in regattas, relax on the peaceful Occoquan Reservoir and have fun off the water with social activities.

Learn more about PWRC and the Learn to Row event on September 17 at www.pwrc.org.


RowSource
Rachel Freedman, Founder

On Tap: What inspired you to launch RowSource?
Rachel Freedman: My goal was to create a resource for athletes who came into the sport later in life, did not have a high school and/or college rowing pedigree, and did not have their sights on training to make the national team.

OT: Tell me about your experience rowing with Capital Rowing Club.
RF: I learned to row with Capital Rowing Club in 2001 at age 23, and remained a member of its morning club program for seven years.

OT: What about with DC Strokes?
RF: I stepped into a dedicated coxswain role and from the first practice I attended in 2010, I knew this team was different. And a kind of different I wanted to be a part of.

OT: Different how?
RF: DC Strokes has influenced my ever-growing understanding and support of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ll never forget the first time one club member asked me, “So, how do you identify?” and I was clueless about what she meant. No more. I’m thankful to Strokes for helping me become a passionate, outspoken ally.

Check out www.RowSource.com for more information on all things rowing.

Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Josh Norman Grinds Toward Greatness

If anyone doubts the Washington Redskins’ decision to make Josh Norman the highest-paid cornerback in the National Football League, it’s certainly not Coach Jay Gruden.

The plain-spoken head coach told On Tap during the team’s training camp in Richmond that despite signing a whopping five-year, $75 million deal in 2016, Norman shows no signs of complacency and routinely works harder than anyone on the team.

“He’s a great player and leader for us,” Gruden said. “When you sign a contract like Josh signed, the other players can take it a couple of different ways. But when they see how hard he works and how hard he prepares before and after practice, and they see him with a soccer ball, his work ethic just rubs off on everybody.”

Wait, what – a soccer ball? Sure enough, when On Tap caught up with Norman after practice, the team’s marquee defensive player nonchalantly dribbled a red, white and green soccer ball off the football field. Asked to explain, Norman smiled and said it’s just another way to improve his football – not futball – game.

“It’s about footwork and disciplining your feet – always having something on your foot moving around,” he explained.

The unorthodox approach and tireless work ethic seem to be paying off for the high-dollar cover corner, and not just at the bank. Norman made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and despite failing to repeat the achievement in 2016 (at least in part because of a weaker defensive supporting cast), he remains one of the most respected cornerbacks in the NFL.

Although he didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year, Norman said he thinks 2016 was his best season yet. Redskins coaches routinely asked the South Carolina native to cover the league’s toughest receivers, including the Giants’ Odell Beckham and the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant. Norman rarely came up on the losing end of those matchups.

A Coastal Carolina University alum, Norman was once viewed as a marginal pro football prospect. That’s undoubtedly part of why the sixth-year pro is regularly the last guy off the practice field and voracious in the film room, devouring video of opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers in an effort to learn their tendencies and fine-tune his timing and instinct for the ball.

“Wherever I am on a list [of pro cornerbacks], I really don’t care because I rose from the bottom to the top,” he said. “I’m a boss at my position. Just ask the receivers I go against. I’ve been everything you can be as a defensive back, and the only thing that I’m lacking now is a Super Bowl.”

Winning a Super Bowl, of course, is the ultimate goal in the NFL. So, what do the Redskins – who made the playoffs in 2015 and then missed them in 2016 – have to do to not only get back to the postseason, but ultimately attain football’s holy grail?

“We have to play sound, disciplined football with everybody doing their job,” Norman said. “It’s the offensive line coming off the football, the defensive line playing with gap integrity [filling gaps in the offensive line], linebackers coming downhill [rushing toward the ball carriers], and safeties and corners breaking on the ball. Those are the key components of winning any football game, and if we focus on that, we’ll go far.”

Norman also warned his teammates against complacency.

“We have to always outwork ourselves and our opponents,” the 29-year-old player said. “We can’t have that lull, that lax, in our brains where we say, ‘This is just a game,’ and we can roll over and just win by a field goal or seven points. We have to treat every game as if it was our last, and by having that mentality and being aggressive, we’ll be fine.”

Speaking of being aggressive, Redskins Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky plans to use the blitz more this season, allowing Norman to play off the ball and take advantage of his natural instincts.

“I like being aggressive,” Norman said. “I play a style of defense that knows this aggressive blitzing mentality. It causes multiple turnovers and big plays. We’ll see how it plays out in the games.”

When Norman isn’t studying film, or practicing with his teammates, he can often be found working with his charity Starz24, a reflection of his jersey number. The charitable, nonprofit organization works with youth in underprivileged communities to encourage healthy and active lifestyles, while providing good role models and mentoring. Norman launched the charity during his three-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, and relocated it to Washington when he took a job with the Redskins three years ago.

“When I first got drafted, my hometown [of Greenwood, South Carolina] was dealing with some pretty grim statistics,” he recalled. “We were pretty high up there with violent crimes and other negative statistics that prompted me to do something about it.”

Norman said he knew he wanted to address some of the heaviest issues faced by the Greenwood community.

“We are newly active in the DC area, as we just launched publicly in DC. There are challenges that come with any region. There are pros and cons, but I see the entry into the DC market as an exciting next step for us.”

The celebrity football player said Starz24 is more meaningful to him than he can explain.

“I believe that [for] those who are given much, much is required,” he said. “It means something when I am able to help do my part to better the lives of others. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I’m all about.”

Learn more about Starz24 at www.starz24.org, and the Redskins’ 2017 season at www.redskins.com.

Photo: Washington Redskins’ official Facebook page
Photo: Washington Redskins’ official Facebook page

A Day In The Life: Redskins VP Doug Williams

Doug Williams doesn’t have a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he’s a bona fide NFL legend nonetheless, especially among Washington Redskins fans. The Grambling State University alum became the first black quarterback to reach professional football’s pinnacle in 1988 when he engineered an upset 42-10 victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the game’s most valuable player and an enduring reminder of the Redskins’ glory years.

In the quarter-century since Williams retired from football’s playing field, he has remained firmly entrenched in the game, burnishing his reputation as a winner – first as head coach at the college level and then as a scouting director for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2011, Redskins owner Dan Snyder – perhaps aiming to recapture the winning spark that Williams brought to the franchise all those years ago – offered him a job as a talent evaluator in the team’s front office. Williams did well, helping to assemble a solid core of veterans and younger players who improved the team on both sides of the ball.

When former Redskins General Manager Scot McLoughlin left the team under controversy in the off-season, Snyder and Redskins President Bruce Allen decided to eliminate the GM position and elevate Williams to senior vice president of player personnel, a lofty perch that gives him control over critical elements of the front office. During the Redskins’ training camp in Richmond in August, On Tap talked with Williams about his new role and his approach to one of the most unique jobs in the NFL.

On Tap: Your permanent office is a couple of hours away at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, but today you’re out here under the hot sun watching your team get ready for the 2017 season. How would you describe your new role with the Redskins?
Doug Williams: The good thing about it is we don’t have the title of general manager anymore. A lot of the things [McLoughlin] was in charge of, that’s me now. I don’t deal with the strength coach, I don’t deal with the equipment manager and I don’t deal with the trainer. But everything else, I’m a part of. My job is to look over the personnel department and make sure we have a great department with the guys in there. And I think we do.

OT: What’s the most important element in an effective front office responsible for assembling a winning team on the field?
DW: Continuity. We’ve been together here for a few years now, and some a little longer, and I think we have a good team. Even with our road scouts and bringing [eight-year Redskins front office veteran] Kyle Smith up as the new director of college scouting and [16-year Redskins veteran] Tim Gribble as the assistant, we still maintained continuity. We added a couple of new pieces, but we’re kind of like a football team. You bring in pieces to fit the puzzle. My job is to make sure when we are out on the road, whether it’s the road scout or the free agent market scout, we try to find the best talent that we can for this football team. We’ll always be in the market for the best football player.

OT: As a longtime talent scout, who among the rookies are you most excited about this season?
DW: I’m excited about all of them, but all eyes are going to be on [first-round draft pick and defensive end] Jonathan Allen. You’ve got [linebackers] Ryan Anderson and Hardy Nickerson. I think Anderson, who had a great career at Alabama, is going to come in and give us some depth. But we’re looking to Jonathan Allen [also a college standout at Alabama] to come in and just be who he is.

OT: When you look at the team as a whole from a scouting perspective, what is the most important piece of the puzzle?
DW: When are you are building a football team, to me, it’s very important to start from inside out. And I say that from the trenches – on both sides of the trenches, whether it’s O-line or D-line. If you can build your offensive and defensive lines, you can work around the other pieces of the puzzle. If you’ve got that offensive line, you give your quarterback a chance to stand up.

OT: Aside from raw physical talent, what do you look for in a player?
DW: Mental toughness, character and passion. You want them coming hard at practice! There ain’t nothing like coming to practice, and you have guys who love to practice because the hardest part of the game is coming to practice. Sunday is supposed to be fun. If you bring that passion and attitude to the practice field and have great days, you look at those guys and see it.

OT: How do you assess that?
DW: We go in the back room and we watch tapes. It’s about finishing plays. We watch how a guy finishes plays and moves around, and it’s those types of things that inform you as a personnel coach or whatever.

On Tap: What’s the missing ingredient to help the Redskins get back to the Super Bowl?
DW: No doubt about it – it’s getting to the playoffs. When you get there, strange things can happen. But you’ve got to get there. We were on the verge last year and we made it the year before, but we’ve got to be consistent. If we can get [over] the hump and get to the playoffs, I think we’ve got the talent to compete with any team in this league.

OT: What does it mean to you to be a Redskins legend and the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl?
DW: It’s when I come across a guy in his late 60s or 70s and he says, “Man, that day…”  They don’t have to say anymore. I’m fortunate to be that guy. It could have been somebody else, but it was me, and I appreciate that [I] was given the opportunity to do that.

Learn more about the Redskins and the team’s 2017 season at www.redskins.com.

CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
The good Lord
Food and air
Family
My job

MUST-HAVE ITEMS
Blue jeans
Polo shirts
Flip-flops

REDSKINS ESSENTIALS
A watch to make sure I get to work on time
Film
A screen
A computer and tablets to work with
An office