By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Tonight, one of the networks is airing a show about some former white nationalist type who has since reformed himself.
I think it’s going to be on MSNBC, but it could be CNN. I don’t know and I really don’t care.
It’s the not first time, and it won’t be the last, that someone tries to make the rest of us feel comforted and weepy-eyed about one rare case with a positive outcome.
For every one guy who de-clowns himself enough to start rid himself of tattoos with enemy flags (SS symbols, swastikas, Confederate flags, etc,) gets himself out, countless more clowns go into the hate machine.
A recent study came out, meant to coincide with today’s latest example of the drain getting more swamped, estimate that 24 million Americans hold alt-right beliefs. They are estimating low.
A whole lot more than that “wanted their country back” after Barack Obama was elected (not even sworn it), and a whole lot more than that call him “Obummer” to be cute and clever and call him the “worst president ever” with zero details to back that statement up.
Those may not qualify as alt-right beliefs by those taking the study, but they do in my book (the only book that matters, at least to me).
It’s a scary trend, and one we need to confront. I confront it every day on Facebook, trying to engage the MAGA crowd in logical debate, and bits and pieces of deeper hatred come oozing out like saliva on a rabid animal.
Maybe not enough to meet the standard of the survey that cut the number off at 24 million, but enough to tell me that there are more out there ripe to be plucked like the low-hanging fruit that they are.
Every time I earn a check mate in these “debates,” I get called a troll. My response is that if you don’t want anyone to disagree with you, don’t make a public post. I know I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I invite debate.
They do, too, trust. It’s all meant to incite and inflame and agitate, but they don’t like being called out on it in a logical manner. Any fact check, even from non-partisan entities, are meet with “fake news” trump card (and that is the only time you will see me use the word trump, as I refer to him exclusively as David Dennison, and you will note “trump” was not capitalized).
Then it inevitably morphs into me being called a libtard and/or a snowflake. Sometimes I’m told to go move to Denmark (not a bad idea, actually) or challenged to meet in person for some sort of dual in the public square (one such situation in Florida actually resulted in a shooting).
With the one year anniversary of Charlottesville – and the death of Heather Heyer, which has somehow been reduced to a footnote – upon us, that topic came up. A woman flat-out told me that it all started because Antifa was violent with “patriots” carrying the flag.
When I explained that the flags they were carrying were actually enemy flags, she said they were … paid actors.
You can’t argue with stupid – as much as I try.
The reality, according to another survey, is that most of these white hate clowns fall into predictable categories – poor, unemployed and uneducated (no wonder that most are also divorced).
That is pretty much the demographic – along with some Russian bots and the Electoral College – that helped sway the 2016 election.
There was a lot of coded hate speech used to make this fools feel empowered, and the results made them feel legitimate enough to stage Charlottesville under the nonsensical guise of protesting the removal of a statue of a traitor, Robert E. Lee.
Just because the clown of all clowns in the White House dances around the subject and won’t confront it, let alone denounce it, doesn’t mean we need to lower ourselves to that level and wear blindfolds.
On this the anniversary of the national tragedy — perhaps the largest in my daughter’s lifetime (born in 2007) -that was Charlottesville (a place we took her on vacation a few summers ago), take whiff of what is going to happen today in DC and let the stink sink in.
It’s more nauseating to me, as an American still waiting to still our potential for greatness fulfilled, than NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem (a common source of battle with daily deplorable sparring partners, even though I would personally never not stand for the anthem – even if should be “This Land Is Your Land”).
So go ahead. You can watch tonight’s show focused on one guy, all while dabbing your eyes with tissues, but the real time to watch is today.
That’s when you need to cry for we’ve devolved into, which something far from great.
By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — It happens every August.
Eagles fans – even in the afterglow of the ultimate prize – are ready for some football, even if it comes in the form of a messy version of the real thing that is preseason.
Excitement often turns to disappointment, as starters – and even familiar names further down the depth chart – don’t get much meaningful playing time.
But before you threw up your hands during Thursday’s preseason opener (7 p.m.) against the Steelers and send your bowl of pretzel sticks tumbling to the floor, wondering who these guys are up on your TV screens, take it from this guy that all is not lost.
In the midst of the madness and chaos, where yellow penalty flags go flying by like beach chairs in a tornado, there are some players in Eagle green who are not just dressed up for Halloween.
You need not re-watch the movie “Invincible” about the ultimate story of an undrafted free agent, Vince Papale, for inspiration. As recently as 2014, I picked an undrafted free agent – an undersized tight end from Florida named Trey Burton – out of the chorus and predicted he would be pegged for a solo. With the “Philly Special” – and a lot of other clutch catches and special teams efforts – in our heads, we know how that worked out. Burton has parlayed that success into greener pastures – literally and figuratively – as he signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason to a contract that will made him the eighth highest paid tight end in the league.
Last year, as a public service, I provided a list of five players to watch in preseason. My only mistake – one that will not be repeated – was not doing it alphabetically, as Corey Clement would have been listed first instead of fourth (behind David Watford, Aaron Grymes and Joe Walker and in front of Randall Goforth).
A year later, Walker is still on the team as a backup middle linebacker after starting a handful a games last year. Goforth was released just before training camp began.
Clement, meanwhile, was a vital role player in the offense all season and saved his best for last, with four catches out of the backfield for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
A good portion of the 53-man roster seems locked down with returnees, offseason signees and draft picks. Still, there a spots – even of the developmental variety on the practice squad – to be had.
Let’s take a look – in alphabetical look – at some candidates to catch your wandering August eye:
Josh Adams, RB: The Eagles have a crowded backfield picture, and the top three – Jay Ajayi, Clement and Darren Sproles – are roster locks who are likely to see much action. For what may be just one active roster spot behind them, there is a posse of Wendell Smallwood, Matt Jones and last year’s draft bust, Donnel Pumphrey. Adams, as an undrafted free agent (despite being considered a mid-round pick going into the annual cattle call), would seem to be fodder. However, the Bucks County native has some pedigree. He had a strong senior year at Notre Dame (1,430 yards to give him a fifth-best of 3,198 for his Irish career) and, at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, strikes a noticeable pose. While he may have to wait it out a year on the practice squad, the Central Bucks South grad will get plenty of touches in the first two preseason games.
Rashard Davis, WR: After posting insane punt return numbers at FCS James Madison as a senior, the diminutive Davis (5-9, 175) was waiting tables in Charlottesville, Va. – right before the tragedy there – when the Eagles called after Sproles went down for the year. He was on and off the practice squad, but will get plenty of chances to field punts – and turn heads – while Sproles sits out the preseason. His time on the back end of the roster likely means Davis was schooled on the nuances of playing the slot, so he could make inroads as the fifth or sixth receiver there. A lot a guys – from last year’s fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson to converted quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to frequent Eagle Bryce Treggs – will be battling for one or two spots behind a locked in top four (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins) and maybe another one or two on the practice squad. Don’t be surprised if the shortest guy is left standing.
Joe Ostman , DE: It is not an exaggeration to say that Ostman, despite not having projectable NFL athleticism, was one of the best defensive players in college football. Just last year, Ostman (6-3, 255) had 19½ tackles for a loss (45½ for his career) and 13 sacks (26 career). He was considered a Day 3 pick who might be best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Here, with a wide-9 attack, he is a low-risk/high-reward longshot for the active roster at one of team’s deepest positions, but he will get a long look and could earn training time on the practice squad (and a second I-told-you-so mentioned here next year). Without much raw athletic ability, his high motor clearly runs on a lot of fuel, and Philly rightfully loves that as much as mustard on a soft pretzel.
Tre Sullivan, S: Even with Corey Graham back in the fold and Chris Maragos returning from injury, don’t be surprised if a safety you never heard of before lands on the final 53-man roster and another on the practice squad. Despite playing at Division III Shepherd, Sullivan was in camp last year, hit everything that moved and was promptly brought back for another chance to refine his game. Two other rookie free agent safeties – Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts – are in the mix, but Sullivan may have an edge in his second camp.
Toby Weathersby, OT: Two guarantees. One, the media focus will be on seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata, who never played a snap of football before being drafted. Two, the more prepared player for right now will be Weathersby (6-4, 317), who played big-time college football at LSU. What that will mean when the final cuts come is hard to say, but if you look who is plowing holes for the likes of Adams to run through, it just might be No. 74.
This article originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com.
Mississipi’s Still Burning
Taking target practice
At the plaque for Emmitt Till
Making out their lists
Of who they’d like to kill
Still with them four eyes
That still can’t see
Last in high school diplomas
First in teen pregnancy
Ain’t nobody teaching
Ain’t nobody learning
Ain’t nobody dreaming
Ain’t nobody yearning
That history book page
Ain’t nobody turning
Live to die with the hate
Mississippi’s still burning
Out in Greenwood
Assembly line of bibles
They should read one
Every once in a while
Still with them four eyes
That still can’t see
Tops in unemployment
Last in life expectancy
In their Philadelphia
Ain’t no liberty bell
Three civil rights workers
Dead in living hell
Still with them four eyes
That still can’t see
One thing worse than the drivers
The rank of the economy
They refuse to recall
What they long to forget
It didn’t take long
To shed all regret
Still with them four eyes
That still can’t see
Last in all that matters
Except the rate of misery
By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Everything is a situation.
That phrase comes up from time to time during NYPD Blue, an all-time favorite television program of mine that was the subject of a recent binge-watching session.
And my life experience is that the phrase holds true to form – certainly much better that what it is or is not the hard truth or who is or is not right or wrong at any given moment.
In an interview on CNN, LeBron James accused Pres. David Dennison – aka John Barron, aka John Miller — of trying to use sports to divide the country, and Mr. Thin Skin couldn’t help but respond.
In a hissy-fit response on Twitter (yeah, that’s what we’ve come to in this ongoing situation in our broken nation) stating that James is wrong – kind of like how he rudely bellowed wrong, repeatedly, when Hillary Clinton was trying to speak in a debate – he is not wrong.
Not 100 percent anyway.
Everything is a situation.
And in this situation – sadly – it seems like it was a much larger umbrella under which sports falls.
It is joined there with other forms of red meat that Dennison/Barron/Miller throws to his rabid base – from supporting the Second Amendment to saying “Merry Christmas” is vital to combat a contrived war on Christianity to being inhumane to other humans seeking asylum here (just like so many of our ancestors did back in the days of alleged greatness).
Dennison/Barron/Miller pulls out this well-worn stunt when putting himself on tour in friendly Deplorable terrain in a blatant — and pathetic — act of self-affirmation.
This is all coded language, and it’s meant to divide – not unite – at its rotted core.
The sports part of it predates the regrettable results of election, where the perfect storm of the arcane Electoral College and an uninspiring Democratic candidate with a virtual mannequin as her running mate led to the surprising outcome, as it goes to back to the summer of 2016, back when his election seemed unthinkable. That’s when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began not standing (he sat the first time and then kneeled, out of respect to veterans) for the national anthem.
My personal feeling — other than that “This Land Is Your Land” should be the national anthem — was that Kaepernick was probably protesting the fact that then-49er coach Chip Kelly was starting a middling white quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, over him for the third preseason game (a sign that Gabbert had won the job) than he was any major injustice to people of his race. (Kaepernick is actually biracial and was raised, middle class, by white adoptive parents).
But everything is a situation.
And, whether intended for not, the situation turned into something bigger than what it was probably intended, which was the way people of color are treated by police and the criminal justice system as a whole.
For a while, it caught on. The louder the outcry, the more other players knelt.
And then, like a dance craze, it seemed to fade.
While the issue at hand became more enmeshed into the national debate, NFL players either moved on or – like Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins – took it to another level, being constructive in addressing the issue instead of symbolic.
So when Pres. Dennison/Barron/Miller stood up in front of a crowd of trained seals in Alabama (where else?) during the heart of last football season and talked about players (“sons of bitches”) not standing for the national anthem, he was a day late and a dollar short.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a dead issue.
But what’s the difference when tossing chum to chumps, right?
And when you need to pump up those approval ratings and divert attention away from the crisis du jour, well, everything is a situation.
There were an estimated 10-15 players – league-wide – still kneeling at the time of the Alabama diatribe. Kaepernick, no longer in the NFL, was not even among them.
The next Sunday, approximately 250 players of the nearly 1,500 in uniform engaged in forms of protest that including kneeling.
They made it clear why they were kneeling, and it had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or the troops (that job is left to White House policies that send home spouses of servicemen because they are not “legal” immigrants).
In addition to criminal justice reform and how they perceive racial bias by police in the streets, they were protesting the occupant of the highest office for dealing low blows and saying they were “sons of bitches” (meaning he was, technically, referring to all their mothers as “bitches”) who should be “fired” from the profession that they scratched and clawed to buck extreme odds to join just for choosing a form of legal free speech during the national anthem.
Turns out, just for a point of reference, that the national anthem was never a big show that required players on the field until after the NFL and the military struck a deal on a mutually lucrative ad campaign in 2009.
From my experience of going to NFL games since 1970, most people pay little to no attention during the national anthem. They are late to stand, and early to sit. They continue to talk, take gulps from their warm overpriced beers and struggle to pull up their pants to cover the cracks of their asses. If I had to guess how much thought was going into the meaning of the national anthem and the flag, I’d say very little – certainly as compared to the players who followed Kaepernick’s lead and protested.
Some may argue it’s a respectful protest; others the opposite. A healthy debate would be welcomed, but that can’t happen without leadership, both from inside the Beltway and in NFL owner’s boxes, can it?
Since 2009, we see a bit more of a dog-and-pony show – complete with military jet flyovers to elicit “U-S-A, U-S-A” chants before games — after which players of multiple races and creeds bleed side by side for fans who are not divided.
If only it could last beyond the end of the game, huh?
Instead, the players shake hands and kneel together in prayer. Everyone else goes back to their little corners in this ongoing battle.
Everything is a situation.
A regrettable one.
In this ongoing situation, which has grown to include teams in those sports dominated by players of color exercising their rights as free citizens and not accepting invitations to the White House after winning championships, the broader national divide continues.
Is it just sports? No.
Are sports part of it? Yes, they are.
It has led to many of the president’s supporters going to the old fallback of saying James should just “shut up and dribble.” They may not realize that when they are going on record with such bombastic commentary, they are opening themselves up to anyone saying to them “just shut up and adjust insurance policies” or “just shut up and change the oil in that car,” etc.
We are divided – perhaps to the point of a cold Civil War – because it is beneficial for a president elected by virtue of self-made division and who will only get re-elected if he can keep it that way.
The list of divisive acts include funding the “birther” movement to prove previous president, Barack Obama, was not born in the United States (to be fair, Dennison/Barron/Miller may not have realized that Hawaii is part of the U.S.) and to saying there are “fine people on both sides” after the national disgrace that was Charlottesville.
How much more divisive can you get than that?
James, on the other hand, has the following quote attributed to him: “You have to accept failure to get better.”
That’s certainly a major difference between these two, as the one charged with the task of acting presidential never accepts failure for anything. Instead, he doubles down on it.
Hence, the lashing out at James (no comment on CNN host Don Lemon).
Fair? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
In addition to being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the greatest basketball player of all time, James came off the streets of Akron and went straight from high school to the NBA to be paid more than $400K per week at the age of 18.
He was clearly born with amazing natural talent, but we all know – or should know – how the “Bronx Tale” axiom about the saddest thing in life being wasted talent. City playgrounds are full of guys in pickup games who were born with NBA talent who are not earning a paycheck to put a ball through a hoop.
James worked for everything he got.
But there is more.
James, who has been with the same woman for 15 years, has always been a solid citizen. He doesn’t even have a parking ticket on his record.
It would have been nice if he came to the 76ers as a free agent, positioning our hometown team for a title run, but this situation is bigger than that.
He wields as much, if not more, sway in this country as the president.
There is one difference, though. James has sent more than 1,100 kids to college. The president was busted for starting a university that proved to be, like many of his other ventures, a sham.
Yes, we are divided. Yes, sports is a part of it. Hard for anything not to be a part of it these days. Just the way you cut and chew your food or walk your dog is part of it.
Guess we just have to pick a side and ride the storm out until we’re rescued by the return of sanity.
While I personally would not kneel during the national anthem, I know which side I’m on.
Everything is a situation.
This column also appeared at phillyphanatics.com
By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Is there a downside to being the defending Super Bowl champions?
Since no team has repeated in 13 tries, overcoming the odds would be one negative, but not on a par with trading it away for experiencing the ultimate thrill of victory.
A related downside is that most defending champions, even during the salary cap era of more turnover, head into that repeat season without a whole lot of healthy roster competition – or intriguing storylines – when the training wheels come off for training camp.
Nonetheless, while starting jobs may not be at stake, there will be roster battles for the world-champion Birds when the blocking sleds and Gatorade bottles come out.
In the case of the Eagles, some intrigue involves key players returning from injuries that kept them on the sidelines while earning rings for the run to glory.
Is that enough to make the 2018 preseason read like more of a page-turning mystery?
Let’s take our annual position-by-position look and search for clues:
Quarterback: Still not sure why Carson Wentz missing the final three games of the regular season – especially when the final game meant nothing – disqualified him from MVP consideration, especially when it would not have if he missed the first three games and then came on strong, but that’s just a quirk in the system. The truth, while not getting too biblical here, is that Wentz was like Moses, leading us to the precipice of The Promised Land, while Nick Foles – Super Bowl MVP – was Joshua, who led the people there (after Moses died). The good news for the Eagles is that, while some trade offers for Foles were entertained, the trigger was not pulled. They have the best insurance policy this side of Lloyd’s of London. Nate Sudfeld, who some dumb-dumbs out there wanted to start in the playoffs after an OK performance in the regular-season finale, returns in an apprentice role while some guy named Joe – Joe Callahan – is the fourth arm with a ceiling of maybe sticking on the practice squad.
Running Back: This is the most crowded picture heading into camp and an area of the most intrigue. Counting on the healthy return of Darren Sproles, the Eagles will have a three-headed backfield of Jay Ajayi as the main ballcarrier and Corey Clement as the do-it-all No. 2 and Sproles hoping to reprise his role as the quintessential third-down back. How many backs will be carried is the main question? The choices range from dinged-but-talented Wendell Smallwood, last year’s fourth-round disappointment Donnel Pumphrey, journeyman Matt Jones and undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame – by way of CB South High School – Josh Adams. Sproles never played much in preseason before, so it’s doubtful he will this year. Ajayi has a bad wheel, so he won’t see the field much, either. The coaching staff will likely not want Clement, last year’s feel-good story out of camp who ended up with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in the Super Bowl, carrying too much of the preseason load. That leaves the others with plenty of touches to separate the contenders from the pretenders for what could be one roster spot.
Wide Receiver: Because of the nature of preseason, where defensive units are usually hodge-podge messes playing vanilla coverage, this is often a time when no-name wideouts get a little bit of love – especially from those who can’t count up to 53 and don’t realize that eight receivers can’t make a roster. This year, with the Eagles, the main four spots are set with Alshon Jeffery and newcomer Mike Wallace outside, Nelson Agholor in the slot and emerging second-year man Mack Hollins, a special teams standout, all mortal locks. The question then becomes how many more receivers are kept? The answer may hinge, in part, on how many running backs are kept and/or how much the coaching staff plans to use tight ends in non-traditional ways. The next group of choices include another well-traveled veteran in Markus Wheaton, last year’s fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson and 49er-turned-Eagle-turned-Brown-turned-Eagle Bryce Treggs. Greg Ward Jr., who was on the practice squad last year as a converted quarterback, is a sleeper to back up Agholor in the slot while Rashard Davis could make a name for himself as a return man. There will be a lot of interest in a local player, Tim Wilson, who played at East Stroudsburg, but the beat writers would be best served to get their mandatory feature stories filed on him before the first cuts are made.
Tight End: The Eagles didn’t bring back Brent Celek and had no choice but to let Trey Burton walk in free agency, where the Bears made him the eighth-best paid tight end in the league. Behind emerging superstar Zach Ertz (left), veteran Richard Rodgers was signed from the Packers to ostensibly replace Celek while Dallas Goedert was drafted in the second round to replace Burton. That leaves little roster space for a plethora of tight ends in camp. Billy Brown was a record-setting possession wide receiver in college, albeit at Division III Shepherd, and spent last season learning the tight end trade while on the practice squad. Adam Zaruba is a total project as a Canadian rugby player, while Joshua Perkins is a hybrid tight end/receiver who has been on the practice squad of the Falcons.
Offensive Line: If the Eagles don’t have the best offensive line in football, the unit is pretty close. Pending Hall of Famer Jason Peters returns at left tackle after missing more than half the season with what was presumed to be a career-ending knee injury. On the other side, Lane Johnson, is widely considered the best right tackle in the league. In addition to his speech for the ages at the Super Bowl parade, center Jason Kelce had an All-Pro season while guard Brandon Brooks – playing between Kelce and Johnson, earned a Pro Bowl nod. Stefen Wisniewski settled the unit down when he became the starter at left guard. Locks to make the team are third-year man Halapoulivaati Vatai, who will go from starting at left tackle on a Super Bowl winner to the bench as the third tackle, and versatile third-year man Isaac Seumalo. It will then come down to how many more linemen the Eagles feel they need to keep, which may also be about how heavy they want to go at other spots. Likely to see plenty of preseason snaps, along with returnee at guard Chance Warmack and tackle Taylor Hart, are rookie sixth-round pick Matt Pryor, a guard-tackle, and seventh-round Jordan Mailata. Measuring in at 6-8 and 345 pounds, Mailata is an Australian rugby player learning football. Others to watch are Darrell Greene, a pure guard who has been close to making the team and has instead been on and off the practice squad since 2016, and center Jon Toth, who was added to the practice squad last season.
Smelling Salt Alert: The Eagles are to be commended for going out of the box in selecting Mailata. However, reality sets in. No way he’s ready to play this year, but there is no way he won’t draw interest from another team if placed on the practice squad. They could concoct an injury and place him on IR or PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) or they could make him the 53rd player on a 53- man roster. That would mean going light another position, and that could take a bite out of the skill positions. If Goedert is all he is made out to be, Rodgers could be axed and two of the “other” tight ends could be stashed on the practice squad to supplement. Same thing at receiver. Beyond Hollins, there really is no reason to keep more than four on the 53-man roster – especially if Ertz, Goedert and Sproles line up outside – and don’t be shocked if Pumphrey is made into a hybrid running back/slot receiver and no other backs make the team beyond Ajayi, Clement and Sproles. Any combination of these scenarios would allow for 10 – or even 11 – offensive linemen.
Defensive End: Brandon Graham, after his crucial strip sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, should probably be signed to a lifetime contract. Not realistic, but it’s a thought. As it is, while never having to pay for a meal in this town again, he returns at defensive end while the guy who recovered Brady’s fumble, then-rookie Derek Barnett, moves into the starting lineup in place of Vinny Curry (now with the Buccaneers). Perennial Pro Bowler Michael Bennett comes in from Seattle and will likely line up a lot inside, as did Curry, on passing downs. Chris Long, coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and Eagles, decided to play one more year. That was enough to keep deep reserve Steven Means in the house while drafting Josh Sweat in the fourth round and signing Joe Ostman as a priority undrafted free agent.
Defensive Tackle: As healthy as the end position looks, the inside is in a bit of a state of flux. Starter Timmy Jernigan is going to miss training camp and the start of the season with a herniated disc in his back. Meanwhile, Beau Allen has moved on to line up alongside Curry with the Bucs. That appears to leave less support for All-World tackle Fletcher Cox. Massive veteran Haloti Ngata (6-4, 340) was signed from Detroit to ostensibly fill the role of place of playing 15-20 snaps per game left by Allen’s departure. In the short-term, Ngata may even be an upgrade. However, even with Bennett and Graham able to slide inside on passing downs, a temporary starter will need to be found from a secondary group of guys who have only shown brief flashes – Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls and Aziz Shittu. A dark horse, with a strong camp, could be Winston Craig.
Linebacker: A year ago, Mychal Kendricks asked to be traded. His wish wasn’t granted, and he ended up playing extra snaps after talented-but-brittle middle linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered yet another season-ending injury. This year, with Hicks reportedly well again and Nigel Bradham remaining in the fold, Kendricks was released outright. In his place will be either Corey Nelson, a free agent from the Broncos, second-year man Nathan Gerry or third-year man Kamu Grugier-Hill. Meanwhile, another player with injury issues – but effective when healthy – is Joe Walker, who will play behind Hicks in the middle. If all stay healthy, we are looking at a young and talented group with Bradham as the veteran anchor. Even Nelson, after four years in Denver, is just 26.
Cornerback: This is the year it goes completely over to the younger players to sink or swim. Ronald Darby, acquired from Buffalo last year – ostensibly to be the No. 1 corner – was a 2015 draft pick by the Bills. Jalen Mills, in his third year, returns on the outside while the slot corner job will go to either Sidney Jones, who was drafted in the second round last year despite a torn Achilles, or one of the following: offseason standout De’Vante Busby, fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox or street free agent DJ Killings. Rasul Douglas, who held his own as a spot starter after being drafted in the third-round last year, is more likely be a sub outside or get a look as a hybrid corner/safety to take advantage of his size (6-2, 209).
Safety: While set with starters Malcolm Jenkins (left) and Rodney McLeod, some of the most compelling intrigue, in terms of competition, may come behind them – not only in who makes the team but in terms of how many safeties are kept. Will it be four? Will it be five? It’s up to the players themselves. The Eagles are reportedly infatuated with hard-hitting Tre Sullivan, who made an impression last preseason by knocking a Green Bay Packer out of a game with a lethal hit. Meanwhile, Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts were both aggressively pursued and signed after going undrafted and should be getting long looks. A year ago, it was corner-safety hybrid Randall Goforth, who spent the year on IR and who will also be in the mix. What will this mean for Chris Maragos, the veteran special teams demon who was sidelined with a knee injury, remains to be seen.
Smelling Salt Alert: Ever since rosters have been at 53 players, there have been handshake agreements between offensive and defensive coordinators to each get 25 slots, with the other three going to special teams for a kicker, a punter and a long snapper. However, there are some extenuating circumstances going on. In addition to the self-created Mailata conundrum, it remains to be seen what will happen with Bennett after allegations surfaced over a strange off-field situation at Super Bowl before last. On top of that, there is the scenario with Jernigan. This all could mean the season starting with 26 defensive players and 24 on offense. At linebacker, expect Nate Gerry – drafted to be converted to linebacker after playing safety at Nebraska – to be one of the most improved players on the team. However, don’t be surprised if there is a revolving door of veteran linebackers coming through after they are released by other teams. After losing free agent Paul Worrilow for the season, the Eagles already grabbed the well-traveled LaRoy Reynolds for a look. While a defensive tackle job is up for grabs, expect the Eagles to take advantage of their depth at defensive end and keep six (Graham, Barnett, Bennett, Long, Sweat and Means). The secondary, particularly safety, will be intriguing. Do they play it safe and keep Maragos, and maybe even bring back Corey Graham, or do they open it up some younger guys (Sullivan, Reaves, Roberts). And be prepared to be a bit disappointed in Jones, as he is ostensibly still a rookie, while Darby may turn some heads after playing on one leg down the stretch last season.
Kicker: Jake Elliott
Punter: Cameron Johnston
Long Snapper: Rick Lovato
Smelling Salt Alert: There is no competition for any of these guys, and there probably won’t be. This doesn’t mean all is well in the land of specialists. As stoic as Elliott was a year ago as a rookie, second-year kickers have often struggled. One bad kick leads to another bad kick and, suddenly, there is an issue from the shoulders up. And while Johnston – a 26-year-old from Ohio State by way of Australia – showed a strong enough leg last preseason to get an invite back to replace Donnie Jones, he and Elliott will need to develop a rapport as holder and kicker. Lovato, on the other hand, was just about flawless as year ago.
This analysis originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com