Category Archives: Sports

Champ Camp: Digging the Depth

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles

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:

OFFENSE

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.

Smallwood

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.

web_mailata.0

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.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles

DEFENSE

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.

nate_gerry

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.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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

 

DRAFT 2018 REVIEW: Benefit of the Doubt

Draft Picks

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — How do we evaluate the 2018 draft of the Super Bowl champions – yeah, that’s right, I said it – Philadelphia Eagles? There are multiple lenses through which to view it.

Given the Carson Wentz trade, and those used for others of the title puzzle, this year’s crop is small.

Do we factor in last year, when Sidney Jones was taken in the second round with a mind toward red-shirting while rehabbing his shredded Achilles as part of this year’s class? Do we include corner Ronald Darby (acquired for a third from Buffalo) and running back Jay Ajayi (fourth from Miami) as classmates of Jones?

That’s certainly what de fact general manager Howie Roseman would like for us to do.

Do we wait another year, to see who is selected in picks bartered for – including a second next year for moving out of the first round this year – before we take a full snapshot?

Roseman wouldn’t mind that either, and this might be the right offseason to sell it.

While the big picture is generally the best picture when evaluating drafts, there is really no way to look at the 2018 Class but within a vacuum – at least until further notice.

So, let’s get to it:

SECOND ROUND (49th Overall)

DALLAS GOEDERT, TE, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

Why They Did It: Twin reasons. With Trey Burton moving on to the Chicago Bears, any and all plays and formations involving him in the existing playbook were in jeopardy of gathering dust – even though Burton was somewhat underutilized (60 grabs over the span of the last two seasons) and undersized (6-foot-3, 235 pounds). Goedert (6-5, 256), who draws comparisons to starting Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and Kansas City Pro Bowler Travis Kelce, perhaps with a touch of Carolina’s Greg Olsen thrown in, has the potential to line up in various spots – similar to Ertz – and create match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. Just like a year ago, when the Eagles were correctly fixated on defensive end Derek Barnett, they played their hand perfectly in landing Goedert. Roseman traded out of the first round, picking up an extra second-rounder next year, and then moved in front of the Dallas Cowboys to select him.

What Would I Have Done? Same thing.

On Notice: Hard to say what the Eagles do, roster-wise, at tight end now. They could carry only two on the active roster. That would be good news for the likes of Billy Brown and Adam Zaruba, who could be warehoused on the practice squad, but bad news for veteran Richard Rodgers. Rodgers is playing at the veteran’s minimum on a one-year deal, so it would be neither a major cost to keep him for insurance nor to cut him loose and deploy a reserve offensive lineman in blocking situations.

FOURTH ROUND (125th Overall)

AVONTE MADDOX, CB, PITTSBURGH

Why They Did It: Even though the Eagles are awash in young corners (Darby, Jones, Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas), none are proven in the slot. Last year’s slot corner, Patrick Robinson, was stoic in the role (until seemingly getting amnesia on how to play the position in the Super Bowl), but has moved back to his original team, the Saints, after one year here. The Eagles acquired Daryl Worley in exchange for Torrey Smith, but he was released after a bizarre brush with the law. Meanwhile, another possible stopgap inside, Jaylen Watkins, signed with the Chargers. Maddox was far from a desperation pick, though. He was generally rated right around where he was picked, with his size (5-9, 184) being the main reason for the slide out of Day 2 (second and third rounds). Although he was dinged up at times in college, Maddox never shied away from contact and gained a reputation as a sure tackler in the open field. He brings unteachable traits – 4.34 speed in the 40, natural ball skills and high character marks. While Mills or safety Malcolm Jenkins may work in the slot early in the season, Maddox could find his place by either season’s end – or 2019 – while contributing on special teams (even as a kick returner). Because he is quick-twitch type of player, Maddox might have been circled by the Eagles because they have six guaranteed games against three division rivals with smallish-pain-in-the-butt slot receivers – Sterling Shepard (Giants), Jamison Crowder (Redskins) and Cole Beasley/Ryan Switzer (Cowboys).

What Would I Have Done? Since they went the tight end route in the second round, I would have been all over Southern Mississippi running back Ito Smith, who ended up going one pick later to the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, they re-signed Darren Sproles to reprise his scatback role, but one must consider the future.

On Notice: Any of the corners – DJ. Killings, De’Vante Busby and undersized converted safety Randall Goforth – hanging on the back end of the expanded roster hoping to secure a spot were dealt a blow in their hopes of staying employed after the summer.

FOURTH ROUND (130th Overall)

JOSH SWEAT, DE, FLORIDA STATE

Why They Did It: Sweat is a talented player that could have easily gone on Day 2. He doesn’t fit every system, but is ideal for Jim Schwartz’s Wide-9 look and would be a difficult blocking assignment for most tight ends. Despite this exciting possibility, Sweat had a serious knee injury in high school and was never 100 percent throughout his college career before foregoing his final season. There are also lingering questions about his motor that scared some teams away.

What Would I Have Done? I guess this championship has made me too giddy to be too critical – at least for a year – so this choice of a player with Sweat’s long-term upside seems logical enough to make Mr. Spock blush.

On Notice: The social media trolls immediately starting punching bus tickets out of town for Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett. But Graham, pretty much the only defensive hero of the Super Bowl, isn’t going anywhere just yet. Bennett, though facing some legal issues of his own – not to mention possible consequences from the league – was brought in more to kick inside on passing downs, which is not what Sweat does at 251 pounds. The more likely candidate to be pushed off the roster – unless Sweat is stashed on IR to get bigger and a bit healthier – is underused Steven Means, who is a better player than most realize. With Chris Long earmarked to retire after this season, Sweat could be pegged to eventually assume his role as a stand-up rusher on passing downs before eventually replacing Graham 16 football lifetimes from now.

SIXTH ROUND (206thth Overall)

MATT PRYOR, OT, TCU

Why They Did It: Because you can’t get enough offensive lineman into the stable for a master trainer like offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to work with. Stoutland has enough sway to pick and choose who he wants and why, and few questions are asked beyond that. He saw something he liked in Pryor, who once weighed nearly 400 pounds and has a rap for getting lazy at times, and that was good enough for the trigger to be pulled. At the end of the day, the got guard-tackle versatility in a big body (6-7, 332) who is surprisingly athletic.

What Would I Have Done? With Notre Dame running back Josh Adams on the board, I would have bolted to the podium so fast that, well, I probably would have fallen on my face (that still has a smile etched on it from Super Bowl Sunday). Turns out, Roseman still corralled Adams after the draft anyway.

On Notice: Well, it seems like Halapoulivaati Vatai is not on permanent notice as the heir apparent to Jason Peters for reasons I can’t explain. However, Roseman spoke glowing of Pryor’s inside-out versatility – mostly on the right side of the line. To my ears, that sounds like Isaac Seumalo better step up his game to the height of his hairdo in his third year. Seumalo started last year at left guard and struggled. So far, his best work has been as an emergency fill-in at tackle and as a blocking tight end. Still not sure how and why guard Chance Warmack is on the team to begin with, so Pryor could conceivably take his paycheck as well. Also, with Will Beatty (talk about stealing a paycheck, along with a Super Bowl ring) no longer in the mix, there is one less veteran body in the way. And then there is converted defensive lineman Taylor Hart. LOL! Never mind.

SEVENTH ROUND (233rd Overall)

JORDAN MAILATA, OT, AUSTRALIA

Why They Did It: Why not? Hate to answer a question – especially my own – with a question, but low-risk/high-reward is part of the afterglow of being Super Bowl champions.

What Would I Have Done? I would have drafted Adams, but it’s all good.

On Notice: The Eagles will certainly do whatever it takes to keep this multi-year project off the 53-man roster but out of the grasp of other teams by leaving him on the practice squad. That means we’ll need to break out the medical dictionary for hard-to-prove ailments – like back strains – until the time, if it ever arrives, that his man-child (6-8, 346) is ready to suit up. Therefore, while  Mailata (pictured below with Stoutland during rookie mini-camp) is likely already better than Hart, it would be a shock if a roster spot were burned on him this year. More of a shock, though, would be if they cut him this year.

Mailata

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

Although they have an apparent blind spot for the only Division I football team in the city, the Eagles are always aggressive after the draft ends and are willing to spend – and spend wisely – to get who they want from those left undrafted.

The above paragraph is from last year’s draft review. With no Temple players signed (the last might actually be quarterback Adam DiMichele in 2009), the Eagles still busted some interesting post-draft moves – highlighted by the aforementioned Adams (pictured below), a native of Warrington – that could make training camp interesting.

Those who will have chips on their shoulder pads after not being drafted, despite being generally given grades that would have and could have had their names called on Day 3 include a trio of safeties – Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama), Dominick Sanders (Georgia) and Stephen Roberts (Auburn) – and two corners Chandon Sullivan (Georgia State) and Jordan Thomas (Oklahoma), whose fall from grace was so precipitous that he went from being considered a potential first-round pick two years to an oft-burnt undrafted type when his career ended.

An intriguing signee is Central Michigan defensive end Joe Ostman (6-3, 255), whose productive mid-major career belies his perceived lack of NFL athleticism to continue the production that saw the high-motored former scholastic wrestling standout rank in the top five in the nation last year in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (20.5).

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps LSU tackle Toby Weatersby (6-4, 317) can make enough noise to be put into Stoutland’s long-term trainee program with Pryor and Mailata.

This column/analysis originally appeared at PhillyPhanatics.com

North Carolina State v Notre Dame

Draft 2018: Love It From The Summit

Jones II

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — The Philadelphia Eagles are the defending Super Bowl Champions. Never get tired pf saying it, let alone typing it.

Go ahead – say it. Scream it one more time. Type it out in BOLD LETTERS.

Now, though not letting go of the afterglow, let’s get down to the business at hand.

The Eagles will make their first league-wide appearance as champions at the annual NFL Draft, which begins with Round 1 on Thursday , and then continues with Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 2 (Rounds 4-7) throughout the weekend.

The fact that it takes place in Dallas, at Jerry World, makes it even sweeter.

Howie Roseman, the vindicated de facto general manager, and loyal sidekick Joe Douglas built their world championship roster on many fronts. They signed the scheme-fit veteran free agents, plucked the right guys off the scrap heap, were quick to the punch on trades and did well in selecting college talent – in the draft and after with undrafted talent – since being brought back after being exiled at the whim of one whose name we not mention.

It is likely we will hear the generic clichés from Roseman, Douglas and head coach Doug Pederson about how nothing has changed in their draft approach.

But the reality is much different.

Everything – at least for this year – has changed.

The view from the top of the mountain is different than the one various combinations of front offices and coaching staffs have been trying to scale throughout a Super Bowl era that included just two losing appearances in the Big Dance.

The rightful price of wearing the ring is picking last in the first round at No. 32. The Eagles presently have no picks – as in zero – on Day 2 and then four (two late fourth-rounders, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh) on Day 3.

In the past, such a scenario would have been enough to make Roseman need sedatives.

But the past is the past. In the present, the Eagles are not in desperate need of a quick fix. To stay atop the mountain, and maintain their magical mojo, they can project a year or two down the line and wait merely wait their turn in the chow line and select the best prospect on their board for starting down the road.

For the Eagles, with Carson Wentz coming off a serious knee injury, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is an insurance policy worth its megatons in gold. Even if – and it’s a big if – Wentz is ready for training camp, his snaps will be limited. Even if – and it is a moderate if – Wentz is ready for the season opener, there is no guarantee he stays healthy. His playing style and history, even before his season-ender in Los Angeles last December, suggests otherwise.

A team still climbing the mountain in fits and starts may have dumped Foles, who has a definite year left on his since-sweetened deal (reportedly including an option for another year), for a Day 2 pick. A team on top of the world – looking down on creation – has another viewpoint.

In the new reality, trading Foles is just not worth it.

Roseman could put wheels in motion to gain more picks in other ways, such as trading back from No. 32 to the middle of the second round and maybe picking up another fourth in the process. With three fourths, at least two could be packaged – or one with a commodity like linebacker Mychal Kendricks – to get into the third.

It takes some creativity, but Roseman is more creative than Spielberg.

Given that the Eagles have no urgent needs, let us take a by-position looksee and assess what they have and who, in theory, they could add:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK

In The Nest: There’s Wentz, an MVP candidate pre-injury, and Foles (left). Behind them is the likely successor to take over for Foles in Nate Sudfeld. Sounds like an ideal situation, but a fourth arm will be needed for camp and a developmental quarterback of the future could be added either late on Day 3 or in free agency.

Need level: Low

Prospects: Tanner Lee (Nebraska), at 6-foot-4 and with a strong arm, seems to fit the Eagles’ prototype. He would need work on mechanics and accuracy, but there would be no hurry. Another name to watch is small-school standout Kyle Lauletta (Richmond), who would fit a West Coast scheme but lacks arm strength. Moving into the seventh round, there could be intrigue around Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (pictured blow), whose fantastic college career doesn’t seem to pass inspection with pro scouts.

JT-Barrett

RUNNING BACK

In The Nest: With LeGarrette Blount signing with the Lions, the Eagles have Jay Ajayi and undrafted rookie surprise Corey Clement as a 1-2 punch. There is some talk about Darren Sproles returning. Still, that is speculation. Wendell Smallwood may get another chance to put last year’s injured-riddled campaign behind him and nail down the No. 3 job. The talent is there, and the coaches know it. What isn’t known is if the talent is there for last year’s fourth-rounder, Donnel Pumphrey, who struggled last preseason and was stashed on IR with a bruised ego.

Need level: Moderate (Ajayi has knee issues and would need to be re-signed to stick around beyond this season).

Prospects: It wouldn’t surprise anyone, from so-called experts to the guy waiting for a cheese steak at Pat’s, if the Eagles used their first-rounder on a back. Ideal fits – for all-round skills like Clement, who is a clone of running back coach/mentor Duce Staley – are LSU’s Derrius Guice (5-11, 218) or Georgia’s Sony Michel (5-11, 215). Others in the conversation could easily include USC’s Ronald Jones II (pictured above), who draws comparisons to Jamaal Charles, and Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson (6-1, 212). If the Eagles chose to wait until Day 3, there are system-fit backs who may never be a true No. 1 but could slide right into a rotational role. There are smaller backs – Southern Mississippi’s highly productive Ito Smith (5-9, 195, picured below) and Miami’s human highlight reel, Mark Walton Jr. (5-9, 205) – and a litany of bigger backs: Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (6-1, 225), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (5-10, 234) and Alabama’s Bo Scarborough (6-2, 232). There is also the best of both worlds with compact power runner John Kelly Jr. (5-9, 205) of Tennessee.

Ito

WIDE RECEIVER

In The Nest: Alshon Jeffery is the No. 1, while Nelson Agholor should pick up where he left off in the Super Bowl in the slot. At the No. 2 spot, ostensibly reserved for the deep threat, the Eagles upgraded by signing Mike Wallace to take the place of Torrey Smith (even though the guy received in return, Darryl Worley, was since released following a peculiar brush with the law). Mack Hollins (fourth round last year) is the quintessential fourth receiver who excels on special teams while developing starter skills. Fellow second-year man Shelton Gibson (fifth round last year) will likely be battling the likes of Bryce Treggs, journeyman Marques Wilson and slot receiver Greg Ward Jr., a converted college quarterback who seemed to be getting it by the end of last preseason, for a roster spot or two.

Need level: Moderate (Only the first four are set in stone)

Prospects: With so many college teams running spread offenses, receiver has become one of the most difficult positions to evaluate. A guy with no real size/speed measurables can have a million catches for a billion yards and a thousand touchdowns while one with seemingly all the drool-worthy tools may not have produced up to his potential, either due to a run-first system or lame quarterback play or injuries, etc. This leads to early-round busts and late-round – or even undrafted – receivers making an impact. Looking ahead, Roseman may want to hedge his bet with what is in-house with another future weapon for Wentz. It is considered an average crop this year, which means there could be some temptation if a guy like SMU’s Courtland Sutton free falls to the end of Round 1. Sutton was once considered the best receiver in this class, but comparisons to Randy Moss have given way to being seen more in the mold of Hall of Famer – and one-time Eagle – Art Monk. Sutton has size (6-3, 218) and ball skills (68 career touchdowns, many in the red zone), but runs a pedestrian 4.58. While Sutton’s stock has dropped a bit, he is still unlikely to last until the Eagles pick. While they would love to get their hands on Washington’s Dante Pettis, a record-setting return man and productive pass catcher who projects to the slot, it is unlikely he lasts beyond Day 2. That would leave options like Trey Quinn (benefitted from playing across from Sutton at SMU after transferring from LSU, bringing in 114 catches for 1,236 yards last season), Boise State’s Cedrick Wilson, Florida State’s imposing Auden Tate (6-4, 235) and Texas Tech’s Swiss Army knife Keke Couttee as options in the fourth or fifth round. In the seventh round, or in the UDFA phase, the Eagles may even consider waiving their ban on Temple players and looking at Keith Kirkwood (pictured below).

Kirkwood

TIGHT END

In The Nest: Super Bowl hero and All-Pro Zach Ertz is entering the prime of his career. Veteran Richard Rodgers was signed to be his backup, making the apparent need for a No. 2 – which seemed dire after Brent Celek (left) was released and Trey Burton went on to sign a big-bucks deal with the Chicago Bears – less obvious. The Eagles are high on Billy Brown, a former record-setting Division II wide receiver, and kept him on the practice squad to learn the tight end trade. Also in house is Canadian rugby player Adam Zaruba and Joshua Perkins, who also has some intriguing tools as a receiving tight end.

Need level: Moderate (It’s a sold incoming class, so …)

Prospects: Before the signing of Rodgers on a stop-gap deal, many projected the Eagles taking an Ertz stunt double in South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert (6-5, 255, pictured below), whose stock has risen to the point where a late first-round pick would not be accompanied by a sitcom laugh track. If the Eagles wanted to wait until Day 3, they could dare to fill Celek’s blocking void with the draft’s alleged best blocking tight end, Florida State’s Ryan Izzo (6-4, 255) or a receiving type in Adam Brenneman (6-4, 255) who transferred from Penn State to Massachusetts and caught 134 passes the last two years.

Goedert

OFFENSIVE LINE

In The Nest: Poor Halapoulivaati Vatai. Dude started a bunch of games for the suspended right Lane Johnson as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2016 and came back last season and started at left tackle after Jason Peters went down for the season in Week 7. After some initial struggles, the TCU product was sound throughout the run to glory. Yet, with Peters deciding to give it another season, a general presumption is that the Eagles will make a priority to find his heir apparent in the draft as if Vatai were never born. Johnson came back last year and was a Pro Bowl selection at right tackle. Ditto for Brandon Brooks at right guard, while Jason Kelce had a career year at center and was a second-team All-Pro. Stefen Wisniewski solidified the line at left guard when Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack both failed to impress. Others in-house options are guard Darrell Greene, who was on the practice squad, and converted defensive lineman Taylor Hart, who is trying to cut it as a tackle. Center Jon Toth, like Greene, spent the season on the practice squad.

Need level: Moderate (Even without an abundance of picks, it is standard operating procedure to draft at least one lineman at some point).

Prospects: The Eagles have reportedly shown tire-kicking interest in Oklahoma’s massive Orlando Brown (6-7, 345). But, if he lasts to No. 32, it seems his NFL home would be at right tackle, meaning Johnson would have to jump to the blind side and push Vatai to the bench. Other possible first-round tackles are Mississippi State’s Martinas Rankin (6-5, 304) and Western Michigan’s Chukwuma Okorafor (6-5, 330), but another realistic option could be a pure guard like UTEP’s Will Hernandez (6-3, 340). Despite playing for a putrid team that went winless, Hernandez (pictured below) distinguished himself at the Senior Bowl and his tape shows balanced play in pass protection and run blocking. Later in the draft, the Eagles could look at small-school prospects, like Maine’s Jamil Demby, a Vineland, N.J., native who used his frame (6-5, 323) to dominate at tackle but may be more suited at guard in the big leagues. A similar small-school prospect who may project inside is Stony Brook’s Timon Parris (6-5, 310). A wild card could be Army’s Brett Toth (6-6, 303). At center, the Eagles may have interest in Alabama’s Bradley Bozeman (6-5, 314), even though the Crimson Tide connection to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is lessened with each passing year.

Hernandez

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE

In The Nest: As is the case with the offensive line, the Eagles have one of the best situations in the league here and are positioned to throw fresh legs at opponents. They already upgraded, replacing the solid Vinnie Curry with Pro Bowler Michael Bennett at defensive and adding Haloti Ngata to replace Beau Allen as the third tackle behind standout Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan. Brandon Graham is back at the defensive end spot while ascending star Derek Barnett and cagey veteran Chris Long bring depth. The group is rounded out by end Steven Means, who has always produced when given a chance, and defensive tackles Destiny Vaeao, Aziz Shittu, Elijah Qualls and Winston Craig.

Need level: Low (meaning they will draft one in the first round)

Prospects: If the scouts/coaches/front office fall in love with a guy who falls, who knows? They are likely to give last year’s sixth-round pick, Qualls, a shot to improve – and move ahead of Vaeao – before adding a tackle, but maybe another pass rusher wouldn’t be the worst idea. Late in the fourth round, someone like the long and lean Miami product Chad Thomas (6-5, 275) or Missouri’s Graham-like Marcell Frazier (6-4, 261, pictured below) might be worth a shot as someone to develop, with Long likely hanging up his spikes after one more year and Bennett possibly only passing through for a season.

Frazier2

LINEBACKER

In The Nest: With Kendricks still around, this is presently a nice mix of solid starters – Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham – along with experienced backups in free agent signees Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow followed by young guys with potential (Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry). However, it could become thinner, considering that Kendricks might really be on the auction block this year and that Hicks – and his back-up, Walker – are injury prone.

Need level: Moderate

Prospects: In the first round, the Eagles could conceivably score with someone like Alabama’s Rashaan Evans (6-2, 232, pictured below) or reach a bit for a Hicks clone – even from the same school, Texas – in the versatile Malik Jefferson (6-2, 240), who runs a 4.66 40 (a good speed for a linebacker). However, they could also wait until Day 3 and grab Wentz’s college teammate at North Dakota State, Nick DeLuca (6-3, 243), who had a stellar career but was prone to injury and runs a pedestrian 4.84. One the draft’s fastest linebackers, UCF’s Shaquiem Griffin (4.62), is not quite as physical and is on the smaller side (6-1, 229). However, as a fourth- or fifth-round pick, he could at least add a special teams boost.

Evans

SECONDARY

In The Nest: With Patrick Robinson gone after one solid year in the slot, this now becomes the kiddie corner (pun intended). The likely starters are third-year man Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, who was acquired last preseason and missed a chunk of the regular season but returned for the stretch run at what looked like less than 100 percent. The wild card is Sidney Jones, who was slated to be one of the top corners drafted in a strong corner class last year before an Achilles injury bumped him out of the first round to the Eagles in the second. He played a few snaps late in the year, but it was not a true test. Third-round pick Rasul Douglas did well as a rookie (two interceptions), all things considered, playing extended snaps while Darby was out. In the wake of Worleygate, and with versatile corner/safety Jaylen Watkins now with the Chargers, there could be a need for one more fresh face or another veteran who ends up on the street. At safety, Pro Bowler and spiritual leader Malcolm Jenkins (left) forms a sound duo with Rodney McLeod. However, with Corey Graham currently unsigned, depth – and plans for the future – are twin concerns. Chris Maragos remains, but he is a special teams standout and only a safety in an extreme emergency. Two guys under the radar are Randall Goforth and Tre Sullivan. Goforth went undrafted last year, despite a solid career at UCLA, with his size (5-9, 176) being the likely reason. Sullivan, out of Division II Shepherd (the same school as Brown, the possible third tight end) hit like a truck in the preseason and was added to the practice squad the middle of the year.

Need level: Moderately High (although too many young players could spell trouble)

Prospects: While the Eagles are unlikely to go corner in the first round, safety is a real possibility. A name that keeps coming up is Stanford’s Justin Reid (6-1, 196, pictured below). The younger brother of Eric Reid brings a similar skill set as Jenkins (the ability to do anything from manning center field to play in the box to cover the slot receiver). Another name to consider at No. 32 is Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison, who has drawn comparisons to Ronnie Lott and Landon Collins, providing he puts his size (6-2, 214), speed (4.54) and instincts together consistently at the pro level. If they wait on a safety, a fourth-round possibility would be Wake Forest’s Jesse Bates III (6-2, 198, 4.57), who adds punt returning to his resume. Later in the draft, there is Louisiana’s Tracy Walker, who runs a 4.43 and has the type of wing span in his frame (6-1, 198) that makes NFL teams salivate. Another player who might fit, given the versatility that the Eagles like from their secondary, is San Diego State’s Kameron Kelly (6-1, 195). Kelly played safety and then transitioned to corner and looked the part, with excellent ball skills and a knack for big plays. He could be around in the fourth round. If Kelly is gone, there are two pure corners from polar opposite ends of the college football universe – Alabama’s slightly undersized Levi Wallace (5-11, 185) and Jacksonville State’s Siran Neal (6-0, 206), who also has experience at safety. A versatile defensive back that may or may not get drafted is four-year Temple starter Sean Chandler (6-0, 190), who is a Camden native.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Southern California

SPECIALISTS

In The Nest: Placekicker Jake Elliott, coming off a terrific first year after being signed to replace the injured Caleb Sturgis, and long snapper Rick Lovato are not going anywhere and likely won’t even have competition in training camp. Punter, though, is another story. Donnie Jones allegedly retired, and last year’s training camp challenger, Aussie Cameron Johnston (a national champion at Ohio State), showed enough to be brought back. However, he will not be handed the job and will surely face competition.

Need level: Low-ish

Prospects: There are two excellent punting prospects in the draft, one of which – another Aussie, Texas’ Michael Dickson (pictured below), could even go somewhere during Day 1. The other – Alabama’s JK Scott (an imposing 6-5, 207) – is not far behind and can also be a viable emergency placekicker. With so few picks, and so many unemployed punters with NFL experience on the street, it is unlikely the Eagles go this route. But when you are sitting atop the mountain, seeing a different view than the other 31 teams, anything is possible.

Dickson

This analysis originally ran in PhillyPhanatics.com

Still On A Cloud, Ain’t Coming Down

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles Victory Parade

By GORDON GLANTZ

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — There is not much more I can say about the Philadelphia Eagles that Jason Kelce didn’t already say at the Super Bowl parade (just got chills typing that).

He spoke the truth, and he did it in the native tongue.

If others aren’t literate in Philadelphian, we can’t worry about that, can we?

They probably eat soft pretzels without mustard and a cheesesteak open face with a knife and fork.

They can babble for decades about us throwing snowballs at Santa Claus, but we – well, most of us – believed in St. Nick.

I won’t be going nuclear here and drop the F-bomb on you, but this was all about the redemption – from the maligned front office to the locker room to the fan in the street – that Kelce spoke so much from the drunken heart about.

I was on the record that I would be a changed man with a Super Bowl ring. (And I will be getting one for myself. I wasn’t lying).

And changed I am.

Doesn’t mean I won’t be prone to some road rage down the road (see what I did there?) or agonize over offseason moves, but not with as much of an edge.

If you know me, you know that I’m not much of a fan of organized religion. I’m not ruling out a higher power, but our futile attempts to understand – him or her or what or it – are so pathetic that it just isn’t worth the time, or the wars and division caused, to even go there.

It doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual, and my spirit was lifted. And – as Larry David would say – it feels pretty, pretty, pretty good!

So good that I broke my exclamation-point rule.

So good that I broke my rule decrying fans who called players by their first names. I always said they need to win me a title first.

And so they did – Nick, Zach, Jay, Brandon, Fletcher, Malcolm and all the rest.

I’m now like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning.

But in order to make Cloud 9 a permanent residence for my soul, I still need to write my way through some post-Super Bowl 52 thoughts that need some perspective.

Best way to address it is to dust off a G2 favorite of yore with a little drill of “What Is And What Should Never Be.” Fasten your seat belts. We’re moving at breakneck speed …

What Is: There was some consternation across the Eagles Nation about Tom Brady leaving the field and not shaking Nick Foles’ hand.

And What Should Never Be: Needing some sort of validation from Tom Brady. I bet Foles didn’t give it a second thought, and neither should you.

I’m not quite sure why Brady didn’t do this, but he never has in all three Super Bowls he has lost. Peyton Manning had a similar policy and nobody said much about that.

After a usual game, shaking hands is expected. Super Bowl? A bit different. There is so much going on down on the field, and such a throng of media forms around the winning quarterback, that it would be kind of a lame move for anyone – Brady, Manning or Joe Blow – to insert themselves into the middle of it, stealing the thunder away and making themselves part of the story.

And when you are Tom Brady, you are always part of the story.

Even when you run off the field.

I know we all grew up taught to shake hands after a game. I notice, from Sofia’s own softball games, it gets quite generic. The word “good” sometimes gets dropped, and instead it turns to mumbled “game, game, game” as they go through line missing half the hands being half-heartedly offered. If she talked to some of the same girls online, the exchanges might be more personal. As she gets older, and gets to know other girls on other teams, this may be the way it goes.

Who is to say, in this day and age, that Brady didn’t text Foles?

And he didn’t play against Foles anyway. He faces the Eagles’ defense, and did exchange post-game pleasantries with both former teammate Chris Long and rookie Derek Barnett.

Not to play Freud here, but this all goes to the inferiority complex we should have shed the second Brady’s Hail Mary prayer – with Rob Gronkowski assaulting defenders downfield – went unanswered and the clock hit zero. Yo Philly, let it go. We have more things to be legitimately indignant about.

Such as?

What Is: Chris Collinsworth and Al Michaels came under immediately scrutiny for seemingly being pro-Patriots during the national broadcast.

And What Should Never Be: Their bosses letting the outcry fade without a knock on the knuckles. An online petition with tens of thousands of names within 24-48 hours is nothing to ignore.

Where I watched the game, there was no decision. It was Merrill Reese and Mike Quick as soon as the ball was about to be kicked off. Other than being out of synch with the action by a few seconds, and not hearing the commercials (Why does a 3-13 team like the New York Giants get a commercial?), there was no other way to go than to fly the hometown-friendly skies.

Within hours, the venom about the national broadcast – especially toward Collinsworth – was all over social media.

I initially figured it was Philly people being Philly people, and feeling disrespected (see above entry about Brady).

But then I played the game back on DVR.

It was virtually unwatchable due to the broadcast, and I was really trying to keep an open mind.

I wrote the following on Facebook, and stand by every word:

“A complete disgrace. No other way to describe it. For me, it was only made tolerable knowing the outcome, but both Michaels and Collinsworth would have driven me nuts in real time. In addition to not reeling Collinsworth in on his rants on the two touchdowns (I am more convinced now than ever both were legit, by the way), there should be a separate petition to remove Michaels because he is unlistenable with his dentures. Dude, get implants or retire. I started to think Nick Foles changed his name to Nick “Folesh” and Nelson Agholor to “Nelshon” Agholor and Doug Pederson to Doug “Pedershon.” I don’t know if it was anti-Eagles bias as much as being preconditioned to expect a Patriots win (even when they needed a Hail Mary AND a 2-point conversion with 9 seconds left just to send the game to OT). Jeez! Or as Michaels would “shay” … “Jeesh” ….

And I wasn’t done. A few hours later, I wrote the following:

“Stick this up your boney ass, Collinsworth. What you and Mr. Dentures (Al Michaels) failed to realize that it takes conclusive evidence to overturn a call on the field. You can’t go frame by frame, hitting pause and play like it was the Zapruder film … That’s not why the rule is there. It is to correct a call that was blatantly and obviously incorrect (like a receiver stepping out of bounds before coming back in to catch a pass). Billions of people are watching. You owe it to them, and specifically to those most emotionally invested (the fans of both teams), to stick to the hard fact that there is clearly not enough there to overturn either TD. In actual fact, after re-watching the game, it is clear they got it right on the field. Clement had two feet down with possession before he shifted it a little in his arms while running out of the back of the end zone. Ertz took THREE FRIGGIN’ STEPS as a runner into the end zone and clearly crossed the goal line. Not gonna let you try to tarnish this. Don’t be showing your Icabod Crane face in our town again (and get those dentures tightened up, Al Michaels) …”

What Is: A lot of talk, maybe too much talk, about what now becomes of Nick Foles.

And What Should Never Be: Punching his ticket out of town too quickly.

Keep in mind that Foles has a year left on his contract. And while there is a $3 million bonus that kicks in next month, he is still at a manageable pay rate.

Some people in his cleats would insist on a trade, but Foles is a different kind of dude. His best football has been played in Eagle green and I don’t think he would want to go to a bad team just to be a stop-gap guy until a younger quarterback is groomed.

The Eagles will surely get some offers, but there is a question of his value. Alex Smith went for a third-round pick from Kansas City to Washington, and he was in the Pro Bowl this year. Foles is a bit younger, so he might be worth a second to someone. Maybe.

Does that make sense to the Eagles, with Carson Wentz possibly unable to start the season (or at least training camp)? They don’t have second- or third-round picks, but getting Sidney Jones back on the field after a full offseason will be like an extra mid-first. They could easily trade back from the last pick of the first round and get a mid-second and fourth. All this, while maintaining a more solvent quarterback situation, seems more prudent for a team that wants to remain as the kings of the hill.

Additionally, many of this year’s injured players – even Jason Peters and Darren Sproles – will be back. You add those on top of a roster that returns virtually intact after a Super Bowl, and it could be one year you could bite the bullet on draft picks.

It might be wishful thinking, but I think it is as likely the Eagles extend Foles beyond next season as it is that they trade him.

The reality is that Wentz checks every box to be the ultimate franchise quarterback, but he does have a history of injuries going back to North Dakota State. If Foles is kept around, he will play again. That as sure as Tom Brady not shaking hands after his loses the next Super Bowl.

What Is: I told you so.

And What Should Never Be: Not telling you I told you so.

When Wentz went down, I went to war with people on Facebook insisting that the Eagles had to sign Colin Kaepernick or the season was lost. I defended Foles – as I always have and always will – even after he played poorly at the end of the season, and the reasoning was simple.

And no, it’s not a man-crush.

He did it before – in 2013 – so he can do it again.

And he did.

I may not have put my neck as much on the line for Howie Roseman, the de facto general manager, but I always felt he got a bit of a raw deal. I won’t get into some of the reasons why. Let’s just say I felt the Howie Hate was ethnically motivated and leave it there. And no deal was more raw than when he was relinquished of all responsibilities – except maybe changing the water at the water cooler – to appease Chip Kelly, who proceeded to treat the roster like that of a fantasy football team.

Like Kelce said, Roseman came back a new man. He undid Kelly’s damage, identified and drafted Wentz, hired Pederson and put together a championship team.

Kelly is back in college football, where I wish him nothing but the worst.

That might sound harsh, but I could have put it the way Kelce did.

But it’s the new me – the dude I have been waiting to be since my first game at Franklin Field in 1970 – so I’ll be nice.

For now.

This column originally appeared at PhillyPhanatics.com

Waiting on My World to Change

Super Bowl 39By GORDON GLANTZ

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — Sofia was not even walking yet when the following type of conversation became commonplace …

Me: “What do the Eagles do to Daddy every year?”

Her: “Break your heart.”

Me: “And who puts it back together again?”

Her: “I do.”

And she does.

Always.

And even though the plight of my beloved Birds is not really a blip on her personal radar screen of Taylor Swift music and girl drama, she knows what she needs to do when another season goes into the books without ultimate triumph in the Super Bowl era.

She will put it back together again.

That one year when she doesn’t will be a life-altering moment, ranking right up there with 10:31 p.m. on March 29, 2007 – the night she was born.

Could this be the year? We will know soon.

I have been on this earth nearly 53 years, and 48 of them have spent consciously aware of the Eagles.

A lot of investment – emotional, physical and financial (season tickets in the family going back to Franklin Field) – has gone into those guys in varying shades of green.

There have been some amazing moments, and after an initiation of them pretty much being brutal, the Eagles have generally been a good team in my lifetime.

Since 1970, the year of my first game (a 35-20 loss to the then-St. Louis Cardinals at the aforementioned Franklin Field), there have been 16 trips to the playoffs, posting a 14-18 record.

And, as of this coming Sunday, three trips to the Super Bowl (note: four losses in NFC championship games).

But without that Lombardi Trophy, it’s really just another year where Sofia will have to put my heart back together again.

The older I get, the tolerance level for just being entertained by a team that provides a nice highlight reel goes down.

How ornery am I? I think the street celebrations after last week’s disemboweling of the favored Minnesota Vikings was nonsensical. In 1983 (my senior year of high school), when the Sixers won the NBA title, we didn’t hit the streets after the semifinals. We waited until they swept the Lakers for the title.

When the proverbial house was traded for Carson Wentz, my immediate reaction was that I didn’t care about how many franchise records he broke. I didn’t care how many Pro Bowls he was selected for, or how many MVPs he won.

If there was no Super Bowl victory in the Wentz era, the trade was not worth it. Period. End of conversation.

Maybe it’s harsh, but this is what a lifetime of heartache does to a person.

Even though Nick Foles is now playing – and playing well — in place of the injured Wentz, this box will be checked because there is no way they get here without the MVP-level play of Wentz, which positioned the Eagles for crucial home field advantage in the playoffs.

But only if Foles has one more magical game in his right arm.

People who know me and my intensity level know just how much this coming Sunday’s clash means, and they ask for an assessment with the perpetual potentate New England Patriots.

Honestly – and I wouldn’t just say this to say it — I think they can win.

It doesn’t mean they will, but they certainly can.

And if they do, it will be another one of those rare life-altering moments.

I will not be the same again.

That much I can guarantee.

It doesn’t mean I still won’t watch every snap of every game, including preseason. It does not mean I will burn my Draftnik card and not sit through three days and nights of draft coverage and endure so much analysis by paralysis that I need dialysis.

But it means that I may take the foot off the gas just a bit. If there is a game-winning field goalabout to be kicked, I won’t hit mute leave the room. I won’t lose my voice, screaming at a television screen. If the network announcers annoy me, I might not be as prone to go to the hometown radio progress and deal with the slight delay between the call from Merrill Reese and the play on the screen (all on the belief that I alone am changing momentum).

It means I might even cool it with the lucky shirts on game day, let alone keep track of their won-loss records.

It means I might tolerate fellow fans who can name less players than the number of bottles of overpriced beer they guzzle at the stadium (well, OK, I can’t promise this one without some therapy).

I will still want them to win, and win a lot, because that is just how this dude who won’t eat a cheese steak made outside of Philly is wired.

When you bleed green blood, you can’t just change your blood type.

However, a voice – the same voice that I heard after I finally saw my alma mater Temple beat friggin’ Penn State in football – will whisper softly in my one remaining “good” ear that I have not only seen the Promised Land but reached it.

If they win Super Bowl 52 (I don’t do Roman numerals, and neither should you), I’m going to buy myself a replica ring and wear it every day.

I – and long-suffering millions like me – will deserve the bling as much as the players (let alone the third assistant to the team’s assistant travel secretary). We have lived through multiple owners, coaches, general managers and players who will like to believe gave all they had for the cause.

My position has always been that I only need one championship – not that I wouldn’t take a dynasty – for my life to be altered.

I know older gentlemen who grew up as Brooklyn Dodgers fans, and they still hold 1955 – the year they actually slew the dragon known as the damned Yankees in the World Series after four previous tries – as a special moment that is enhanced by being singular in nature (the Yankees won the 1956 rematch).

Different sport, different city and a different time. But really not so different.

And there really may be no better time than the present to make it happen.

I have seen Philly teams win titles, and I have seen several others come painfully close, and a sixth sense about a team of destiny develops.

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

My life won’t change.

I have been there, in the pit of numb despair.

Sofia will put my broken heart back together again.

But wouldn’t be amazing if her Daddy was such a changed man that it was no longer necessary?

Always.

 

 

Go Your Own Nay

Wiz

By GORDON GLANTZ

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — Let the oddsmakers make their odds.

Let the doubters doubt.

Let the naysayers nay.

Let the Nick Foles haters hate.

Let the national networks do their little human interest features on players from other teams.

They neither have the Eagles pegged nor right where they want them.

They have the Eagles right where they need to be – the No. 1 seed, playing at home in a championship game against the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings.

Chips on shoulders aside, there are several reasons for optimism heading into Sunday night’s game, the outcome of which will determine if the Eagles will go to the third Super Bowl in their history.

Let us count the ways:

In Through the Outdoor: While the forecast does not call for the same kind of bitter cold that served as the backdrop for the 15-10 win against the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, the game will still be played outside and not in the cushy temperature-controlled environment in which the Vikings played 11 of theirs games, counting playoffs (10-1 inside).

Plus, with kickoff coming at 6:40, there should still be a chill in the air – and enough of a wind to affect kicks and punts and passes that it will be felt, even if it is not to the extreme.

This is not to say the Vikings are ill-equipped to play outside. These are professional athletes, and the No-Dome Syndrome might have been more of an issue with a high-octane team like the Saints, who were defeated last Sunday by the Vikings on a miracle heave-ho from quarterback Case Keenum (1-4 on the road against teams with winning percentages of .666 or better) to Stefon Diggs (getting behind a safety not named Malcolm Jenkins).

The Vikings, like the Eagles, play stifling defense and effective offense. However, it should be noted that their defense is not quite as prone to stifledom on the road, where they give up just under 20 points per game. They pitched one road shutout – in Green Bay – but that was with Brett Hundley quarterbacking the Packers. Take that out, and they are giving up 22 points per game.

For as maligned as Philadelphia fans are for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus around the time of the American Revolution, they will be bringing the noise to back a defense that has been stifling at home.

Wiz With: There was a lot of worried talk – maybe too much, in retrospect – when MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury. Even though Nick Foles guided them to a crucial victory against the playoff-bound Rams in Los Angeles (playoff spot clinched) and then looked like his 2013 version against the lowly Giants (division clinched), the haters started hating after a forgettable performance in a win over the Raiders (home field advantage clinched) before not getting out of his funk in a cameo against Dallas.

Reality is that football is the ultimate team game, even when you lose your franchise quarterback. While the game plans were purposefully vanilla against the Raiders (a risk that almost backfired) and the Dallas in a glorified preseason game, other players were not on the field as well.

Let’s focus on one in particular: left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who was out of the lineup for the Giants and Raiders games before coming back for a few “timing” snaps against Dallas.

The unsung hero of the line, whose assertion into the starting five instead of Isaac Seumalo seemed to make the difference in the offense, Wisniewski used the bye that Foles helped earn to be back in midseason form against the Falcons. Result? Left tackle Hal Vaitai was more stable, while center Jason Kelce – a finesse pivot who thrives between physical guards like Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks – played outstanding.

Against a stellar Vikings’ front line, featuring a defensive end in Everson Griffen (13 sacks), who will likely big looking to take advantage of Vatai, the presence of a healthy Wisniewski – instead of Seumalo or Chance Warmack – is not as sexy to talk about as a receiver-corner showdown, but it’s vital. Games are still won and lost upfront. That’s why these two teams are still playing.

Second Helping: In many ways, if you break it down, last week’s meeting with the Falcons was more daunting, and it was more understandable that the Eagles were underdogs. Atlanta was the defending NFC champions and really made blowing a Super Bowl into an art form. It was a team that had been there, with something to prove, and had the hot hand. Conversely, the Eagles were loaded with players in their first NFL playoff game. Combine that with the layoff, and it could have spelled doom. Instead, the Falcons scored all 10 of their points off turnovers (a field goal after a Jay Ajayi fumble and their only touchdown following a fluke where a “poison” punt seemed intent on ricocheting of every guy in a green uniform). With that first experience in the books, and all the rust shaken off, the Eagles will go in relatively healthy and raring to go.

Celluloid Heroes and Zeroes: The Eagles have likely been scouting the Vikings for a while now, and vice-versa, but they couldn’t ask for a better game film to look at than last week’s miracle win against New Orleans. They get to study the Vikings (two of their losses outside) looking flawless in the first, looking flawed in the second as they blew their seemingly insurmountable lead, only to reclaim it on a play that will not only never happen again for a long time, but might have them in a psychological mode where the way they won syphoned a lot of gas in the tank. The emotional needle could be close to E on Sunday. The Vikings are talking about the walk-off touchdown more than they are the Eagles. It’s not a knock on the talent level, as nobody gets this far without a lot of it, but it is still a game of emotion. The Eagles’ win over the Falcons was a more businesslike win in a defensive slugfest.

History is Our Story: As mentioned earlier, as the No. 1 seed at home, the Eagles are on the right side of a 28-12 record. They are also 4-0 as home underdogs. In their history, they are 3-0 against the Vikings in the playoffs. Most notable are home wins in 1981 (1980 postseason) and 2005 (2004 postseason), which ended with the Eagles in the Super Bowl. In 2005, they beat the Vikings (27-14) and then the Falcons. Will it be the inverse order this time around? The oddsmakers, naysayers, self-proclaimed experts and Nick Foles haters all say no. But a lot of signs point the other way as well.

This analysis originally appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com

Feeling For Foles

Nick-Foles-2

By GORDON GLANTZ

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — All across the nation, there are young boys – and probably some young ladies, too – dreaming of being an NFL quarterback.

Reality often squashes those dreams. If they are lucky, maybe they get to run the scout team in high school and parlay that skill into quarterbacking the flag football team for their frat in college.

End of the day, there are NFL-level jobs for 32 of the trillions to start, and another group to either back them up or hang on a practice squad with as much job security as seasonal help for a department store about to declare bankruptcy.

The opportunity to be under center for a playoff game only enhances the aforementioned dream.

All that said, when Nick Foles sits back in the shotgun for the first time in the Eagles’ Divisional Round Playoff game one week from Saturday, no one should want to be in his spikes.

Unless the Eagles win it all, it will be all his fault. And if he pulls a Jeff Hostetler and wins it all like “Hoss” did in Super Bowl XXV for the Giants, it will be portrayed as the Eagles doing it in spite of him.

It’s neither fair nor accurate.

In 2013, when Foles threw 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions while ringing up an outer-worldly 119.2 QB Rating and winning MVP of the Pro Bowl, he immediately became saddled with the label as “the guy who will never do that again” instead of “he may not do that again, but we’re OK if he comes close.”

Meanwhile, the league is full with quarterbacks getting multiple opportunities to play based upon the pipedream that they can “do that” just once.

As the postseason approaches, it is time for a serious reality check.

Even before wunderkind Carson Wentz was lost for the season with a knee injury, the realistic perspective from the “thinking” part of the media and fan base was that he gave them a chance – key word being “chance” – to bring the Eagles Nation its first championship since 1960 and the first in the Super Bowl era. The hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy was far from a foregone conclusion, with the nailing down of a first-round bye and the home field advantage being seen as a major step in the right direction.

It may not have been pretty, but Foles kept that train on the tracks.

If pretty is what you want from Foles, you are going to be disappointed. If you want a guy who finds a way to win, even if it is by virtue of avoiding finding a way to lose, Foles fits the bill.

By the numbers

In 2012, as a rookie on a hideous team in Andy Reid’s final season, Foles started the last six games and was 1-5. Throw that out the window – as you should, considering the implosion going on around him – and he is 21-12 for his career.

In 2015, after being sent to the St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams, Foles was 4-7. He was replaced by Case Keenum, who went 3-2 but was still sent into exile after going 4-5 as a placeholder for Jared Goff last season.

Ironically, it is quite possible Foles and Keenum – now quarterbacking the Vikings after Sam Bradford (the guy traded here for Foles from the Rams before the Eagles traded Bradford to Minnesota for first-round pick that turned into promising defensive end Derek Barnett) – could match up in the NFC Championship Game at the Linc. That scenario is getting too far ahead of ourselves, but it would kick more dirt on the legacy of former Rams’ coach Jeff Fisher, who clearly stayed in the game well past his expiration date.

If you’d like to see the glass as half-full, we can throw out Foles’ 4-7 mark with the Rams, too. To be fair, we can subtract his 1-0 record starting last year for Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs. And we won’t even subtract the loss after playing less than a half in the season-ending loss to Dallas. This leaves us with Foles’ record as a starter, not counting his stoic-under-fire rookie season, as 16-5 in an Eagles’ uniform.

And yet, with winning being all that matters, he has gone from St. Nick status to the Grinch status while still keeping the Eagles in position to do what has not been done in most our lifetimes.

He may not have left a highlight reel under the tree, but we unwrapped a crucial first-round bye to rejuvenate the team and then the chance to play two home games before likely meeting New England or Pittsburgh in the Big Dance in Minneapolis.

Home teams only win at a rate slightly above .500 in the wild card round, but that percentage goes up over .600 in the divisional and championship rounds, so we are talking about substantial steps toward the ultimate goal.

Did Foles do it alone? No, not all.

He’s not Carson Wentz. He won’t strap a team on his back and will it to victory. He won’t avoid three sacks on a third-and-12 and turn it into a 20-yard gain to spark a scoring drive. He doesn’t have the athleticism that makes the Eagles impossible to stop in the Red Zone.

But Wentz will be the first one to tell you he wasn’t doing it alone, either.

It will take a village

What would be your reaction if a crystal ball revealed Foles’ two-game playoff stats as follows: 26 completions in 67 attempts for 281 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions?

You would not be expecting the Eagles to be in the Super Bowl, but those are the exact numbers Ron Jaworski put up for the Eagles – with “Jaws” throwing three picks in the Eagles’ 27-10 loss to the Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

They still got there, with others filling the void on what were tough days, weather-wise, to throw.

The feeling here is that you should be less worried about Nick Foles and more worried about left tackle Halapoulivaati Vatai and his ability to stave off what will likely being the opposition’s best defensive end and/or blitzes. He will be targeted, and it would be a shame to lose a possible safety valve receiver – tight end or running back – to help him block.

You should be more worried about cornerback Jalen Mills, who bites on double moves faster than a shark bites bloody chum.

Vatai and Mills are among many Eagles who will be playing in their first playoff game. Foles is not among them. Actually, he started at quarterback the last time the Birds were in the postseason and led a fourth-quarter comeback against the Saints that the special teams and defense could not hold.

The special teams and defense need to do their part this time around. While it is likely the offense will at least initially play more for first downs than touchdowns, punter Donnie Jones will need to avoid touchbacks. He’s a tenured veteran, and that’s what he is paid to do. If a game of field position means more field goals than touchdowns, rookie Jake Elliott can’t afford to miss. Every point counts.

And, to be honest, this team – even with Wentz – was not reaching the Promised Land without unforgiving defense. First against the run during the season needs to carry over to the postseason. In terms of sacks and turnovers, quality over quantity would be a fair trade.

And some secret weapons, in all three phases, could be the difference. How about dusting the moth balls off of Trey Burton, or trying to take a strategic deep shot with rookie Mack Hollins? This is the first season since Dave Fipp has run the special teams without a kick return for a touchdown and two since a punt return to the house.

That’s a direct challenge to Kenjon Barner, who has been flirting with disaster on some punts down the stretch. Or maybe Corey Clement fields a short kickoff and goes all the way?

And maybe this could be when Jay Ajayi breaks loose as the clear No. 1 back and turns 15-20 carries into more than 100 yards.

If most or all of this is there, the offense does not need to score 30 points in what will be cold conditions that should favor the Eagles.

The recipe for victory is right there. Repeat it again the following week, and we can talk about the third time being the charm for the Super Bowl.

Setting up to Succeed

The coaches have to put the players in position to win. In the NFL, especially when the stakes are raised, it is – as the kids say – “a thing.”

Nick Foles is what he is: a system quarterback. If the offense clicks, Nick clicks. If it doesn’t, he won’t. That’s not all on him.

While the Eagles have struggled on third down lately, head coach Doug Pederson accurately pointed out that the issue is really first and second down. That means establishing the run and setting up some nice screens and maybe going more the dink-and-dunk route to get Foles into a rhythm.

It’s also fair to submit that the game plan was purposefully vanilla against Dallas, and probably not too elaborate against Oakland, either, as the feeling may have been that the Raiders could be beaten without playing a full hand for future opponents to see.

If so, it was a risk that almost backfired.

But it didn’t.

We are right where we need to be.

This can still happen, and Foles will not be the reason it doesn’t.

What has to happen?

Cut down the penalties to nullify positive offensive plays, let alone extend drives for what will be good opponents who will capitalize.

There can’t be drops, like that of Torrey Smith on third down when Foles had the offense moving on the first possession against Dallas. It is highly likely that if that pass is held, Smith runs for a while. The Eagles come away with points – three or seven – and Foles likely exits with everyone feeling a whole lot better about him right now.

But when you are Nick Foles, the “guy who will never do that again,” that’s not the way it is.

Nobody really ever feels good about you. Even when you throw four touchdowns in your first start, it is quickly pointed out that it was against the Giants.

It’s a bad spot to be in, but that does not mean the outcome can’t still be good overall.

Even if the guy living out the American dream gets no credit.

This column initially appeared at phillyphanatics.com