Hoping This Chase Won’t End In A Crash




GORDONVILLE — While I’m not much of a fan of chase scenes in films – especially when they are clearly being used as space-eaters to cover up a lame plot – there are enough storylines woven into the fabric of the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles that there is little to no reason not to cut to the chase from the jump.

What should we expect this season, the second in the tenure of head coach Doug Pederson and key members of his staff (offensive coordinator Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz) and second in the redemption of de facto general manager Howie Roseman and sidekick Joe Douglas?

Enough intrigue to rival Game of Thrones, that’s what.


Honestly, and not to cop out, but I can’t tell you. Not in terms of wins and losses. Overall, I think this team could be a bit better than last year’s 7-9 squad that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on too many occasions.

But the schedule is pretty exhaustive, beginning with two road games against the Redskins and Chiefs. And if the Eagles come in for their home opener against the Giants in Week 3 at 0-2, they are in must-win territory in September and could be behind an 8-ball that will grow to the size of the world’s largest 8-ball in Tipton, Missouri.

One would suspect the Eagles will again find themselves in close games, putting the magnifying glass on just a handful plays that will tip the scales one way or the other in those few contests.

Neither 6-10 nor 10-6 would surprise me, although I find it difficult to see this team scale the 8-8 wall without a few yet-unknown stars being hatched along the way.

As it is, we have the guys we can count on – and the lost causes we probably know we really can’t – and those somewhere in between.

As we now scrutinize the 53-man roster heading into Week 1, it seems to be more one of hope than nope, but a blessing from the Pope wouldn’t hurt, as bad bounces and injuries – not to mention gameday decisions from Pederson – might make the ultimate difference.

And now, if you dare, let’s sort out this Magical Mystery Tour:


QUARTERBACK (2): *Carson Wentz, Nick Foles

Summary: Unlike last year, less latitude will be given to Wentz, who was thrown into a sink-or-swim narrative in 2016 when Sam Bradford was dealt to Minnesota with the season beckoning. Although Wentz set some rookie records, and took almost every snap, most of the records – such as Bradford’s for completions by a rookie (379) were the result of Wentz setting the franchise mark for passes thrown (607) and by throwing the second most all-time by a rookie in NFL history. All in all, we can safely say that Wentz – for whom the Eagles gave up a great deal in assets to acquire at second overall – treaded water when tossed in the deep end.

What has changed between then and now? Wentz sought counsel from a quarterback guru, took his receivers for pre-camp getaway in his native North Dakota and studied more film of himself than Warren “You’re So Vain” Beatty. For good measure, the Eagles reached back into their recent past and brought in Foles, the last Eagles quarterback to play in a Pro Bowl, to serve as backup. Assuming Foles’ aching throwing arm heals up before being pressed into action, this seems like an upgrade over a raw Wentz and Chase Daniel as backup.

Eagles-SprolesRUNNING Back (5): *LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles (left), Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement (R), Donnel Pumphrey (R)

Summary: For a position where the leading rusher in the preseason, Byron Marshall, landed on the practice squad, this group sure attracted a lot of attention. Blount, who led the league in touchdowns with 18 in New England last year, didn’t do much in the preseason, while Sproles didn’t play at all as a precaution heading into what will likely be the final year of his borderline Hall of Fame career. There were barely any snaps for Smallwood, the talented but oft-dinged sophomore back who could prove to be an X-factor between Blount’s power game and Sproles’ as a third-down option. That left the discussion between that of compare and contrast between Clement and Pumphrey, who was drafted in the fourth round to ostensibly be the next Sproles in 2018. Thing is, if Clement were the fourth-round pick and Pumphrey the undrafted free agent, it would have been a quick conversation. As it was, Clement – a South Jersey native and this year’s Rocky Balboa figure who had a strong senior year at Wisconsin – played too well to cut. The harsh reality about Pumphrey was that he looks more like a poor man’s Kenjon Barner, a former underused Eagle just released by the Chargers, than a poor man’s Sproles.

This may all be much ado about nothing. Sproles will get the most touches, and the hope is that Wentz has mastered the art of the screen pass to make the best use of Sproles in the open field, while Blount will be the guy in short yardage and the goal line and the end of games when trying to secure leads. In between, there should be plenty of chances – 10 touches, maybe – for Smallwood.

TIGHT END (2): *Zach Ertz, Brent Celek

Summary: For the first time since Ertz was nabbed in the second round in 2013, this is not a power-sharing arrangement. It’s Ertz’s chance to prove himself to be an upper-echelon tight end, and he will need to do that with more than just a few big games to pad his numbers. Ertz will likely benefit from the addition of NFL-caliber receivers on the outside and burgeoning chemistry with Wentz. Celek, still a reliable underneath target, likely winds down his career here blocking and being a spiritual leader.

UNCLASSIFIED (1): Trey Burton

Summary: You could just label the fourth-year man out of Florida a tight end and be done with it, but, even there, it’s a tough call whether his spot on the depth chart is before or after Celek. Burton caught 37 passes last year – for an average just under nine yards per reception and one touchdown. The plan is seemingly for that catch total to go up to the 45-55 range, for maybe a 10-yard average and a few more scores. That will come with Burton lining up as a traditional tight end, a motion tight end, a slot receiver and out of the backfield. Since it is likely the Eagles dress just three running backs on game day, Burton would be next up in the dire event of two injuries. Ditto at quarterback, with only two, and long snapper. Did we mention that Burton is one of the team’s best special teams players as well?

WIDE RECEIVER (6): *Alshon Jeffrey, *Torrey Smith, *Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins (R), Marcus Johnson, Shelton Gibson (R)

Summary: So, a year ago, Jordan Matthews was going to move from his comfort zone at slot receiver to wherever Pederson felt he had the best match-up for his default No. 1 receiver. Starting outside were Nelson Agholor, then coming off an uneventful rookie year, and the infamous Josh Huff. A year later, after trading Matthews – in spite of his kinship with Wentz – Agholor moves to the slot and legit veteran outside receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith step into the mix. They do so looking to reclaim some lost mojo on their recent production, but the preseason revealed the obvious upgrade in skill and professionalism. This is the last chance for Agholor to show a pulse – especially with Hollins, a fluid rookie, waiting in the wings. Johnson is the more under-the-radar “Rocky” story. Cut last year and re-signed in the offseason, he shined in camp enough that Roseman began working the phones to bring in corners, and then he nailed down a roster spot while worrying about his family back home in the Houston area. Right now, Johnson (6-foot-1, 205 pounds, sub-4.5 40-yard dash) is a more size-speed guy than a finished product but, if dressed, will help on special teams. Gibson, like Pumphrey, only made the team because he was a draft pick – although he did look somewhat more in the flow of the offense in the final preseason game.

Eagles-KelceOFFENSIVE LINE (8): *Jason Peters, *Isaac Seumalo, *Jason Kelce (left), *Brandon Brooks, *Lane Johnson, Halapoulivanti Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack

Summary: From the outside looking in, this is one of the best lines in the whole NFC, if not the whole NFL. From this view? Eh. I’m not even sure if it’s the best in the NFC East, but I’ll take second – behind the Cowboys – and it will have to be in order for Wentz to utilize his new targets and for a better run/pass balance to be achieved. Peters, like Sproles and Celek, is nearing the end of the line. Unlike them, the success of the team rides more directly on his shoulders. Next to the aging longtime left tackle will be a first-year starter, and second-year man, Seumalo. There is upside there, but also a learning curve. While Kelce does some things that most centers don’t, like blocking 20 yards downfield on screens, he remains like the shortstop who hits 25 home runs but can’t crack the Mendoza line and isn’t really much more than an average fielder. His shortcoming is physicality in the trenches. Whenever the Eagles face a 3-4 team with a stout nose tackle, they are at an immediate disadvantage. The jury remains out on right guard Brooks, who was an above-average run blocker and below-average pass protector, making him an average player who had some personal issues going on as well. Right tackle Johnson is much like Ertz, his fellow member of the 2013 draft class. He goes in as a Pro bowl talent who still has to pay his own way to get there. The Eagles will start the season with only three reserves – center/guard Wisniewski, guard Warmack and tackle Vatai – but all have starting experience. In the case of Wisniewski, quite frankly, it might be an upgrade if pressed into action at center or guard.


DEFENSIVE END (5): *Brandon Graham, *Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Steven Means

Summary: In a calculated risk, Roseman and Co. decided to address the secondary – in a draft loaded with blue-chip corners – by improving the pass rush and drafting Barnett in the first round. Time will tell if it was luxury they couldn’t afford, but the early glimpses of Barnett are that of an absolute beast who will likely overtake the perpetually underachieving Curry as the starter right before or after the bye week (Nov. 12). Long provides a steady veteran presence after winning a ring with the Patriots last year, while Means just played too well, for the second preseason in a row, to cut. As a matter of fact, this onetime journeyman received a contract extension. Graham, a second-team All-Pro choice last year, will get the most snaps in what will be a heavily rotated group.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): *Fletcher Cox, *Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Veao, Elijah Qualls (R)

Summary: With all due respect to Bennie Logan, who tended to break down by midseason and not draw significant double teams away from Cox, Jernigan’s ability to play in the other team’s backfield is an upgrade the brass is counting on. Allen just returned to the fold after a freak injury while working out in the offseason, but should get up to game speed and reprise his third tackle role. In the meantime, the cat-quick Veaeo and intriguing Qualls will get chances to appear on the radar.

Eagles-Kendricks dejectedLINEBACKER (6): *Nigel Bradham, * Jordan Hicks, *Mychal Kendricks (left), Najee Goode, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Summary: Behind what appears to be a defensive line that might be stealing the headlines reserved for the offensive line, this group – if healthy – has a chance to do some easy cleanups and make plays. Hicks, in the middle, could arguably be the best player on the defense and is the unit’s most ascendant player. Bradham is earning his doctorate in Schwartz’s system, but more snaps will have to be found for a playmaker like Kendricks, who appears to be hitting his prime. Though essentially a rookie after missing last season, Walker is the likely fourth linebacker, while Goode and Grugier-Hill will be looked on to excel on special teams.

OUTSIDE CORNER (4): *Ronald Darby, *Jalen Mills, Jaylen Watkins, Rasul Douglas (R)

Summary: The Achilles’ heel of the defense for what seems like infinity will hopefully got a boost from a consistent pass rush, linebackers who excel in coverage and the combination of substantive additions. If that sounds familiar, it is almost verbatim of what I wrote last year about another cast of medicine men brought in to cure our ills at cornerback. The difference this year is that we are not looking at stop-gap guys. There seems to be a plan and vision of a future devoid of a revolving door of Bradley Fletchers and Leodis McKelvins. Darby, a former second-round pick of the Bills, has all the requisite physical tools and is immediately inserted as the No. 1 of the future after being acquired in a swap for Matthews and a third-round pick. There will still be a learning curve, as with Mills, a second-year man who played as well as could be expected in extended snaps last season as a seventh-round pick. He eventually will go to the slot when Sidney Jones, the 2017 second-round pick red-shirted this year with a ruptured Achilles, returns next season. Watkins is the defense’s version of Burton. In addition to special teams prowess, he can line up anyway in the secondary. Douglas, who led the nation in interceptions last year as a first-year starter at West Virginia, was drafted in the third round and is likely not to dress much on game day. He remains a work in progress but also part of a light at the end of tunnel that finally isn’t an oncoming train.

SLOT CORNER (2): *Patrick Robinson, Dexter McDougle

Summary: Robinson is this year’s lone carpet-bagger whose claim to fame is being a first-round pick and claim to shame is not living up to that before seeking refuge here. To Roseman’s credit, seeing Robinson getting torched by young receivers early in camp was enough to add Darby – albeit at the high cost of Matthews while banking on Agholor to arise from his coma and fill the void. To Robinson’s credit, he embraced a chance to stay on as the slot corner and made Ron Brooks expendable. While McDougle made the team after being added in a last-minute trade, he is only an insurance policy right now.

SAFETY (4): *Malcolm Jenkins, *Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Chris Maragos

Summary: Theoretically, a strong point. Jenkins and McLeod did a lot of chasing as the season wore on last season, but we will blame that on breakdowns around them. There’s only so much you can do on the back end when the pass rush is intermittent and the corner play non-existent. Graham is a key veteran who can be deployed in some packages. All that is separating Maragos from the Pro Bowl as a special teams choice is that the designation generally goes to players from playoff teams.


LONG SNAPPER (1): Rick Lovato

Summary: If it came as a surprise that the beloved snapper/magician Jon Dorenbos was traded away (almost unheard of for a snapper), it really shouldn’t have. There were signs a year ago that they were looking for a more cost-effective solution when a training camp roster spot was eaten up by a fella named Chris DePalma. Well, he didn’t make it, but Lovato – after filling in for an injured Dorenbos at the end of last season, did. If we don’t mention Lovato’s name at all – except for a special teams tackle or fumble recovery – then the mission was accomplished. If not, well, I wouldn’t want to be Roseman.

PUNTER (1): Donnie Jones

Summary: Now in the twilight of his career, but reliable, he fended off a formidable challenge this summer from undrafted rookie Cameron Johnston. Let’s hope the Eagles don’t live to regret it (i.e Brad Wing, now of the rival Giants).

KICKER (1): Caleb Strugis

Summary: He’s coming off a real good year, but yet he doesn’t inspire confidence. It might because he looks like he is 12 years old, or it might just be because he would need another solid season to settle any restless stomachs.

RETURN GAME: Sproles will reprise his role as punt returner before the curtain falls. The kickoff return job is likely to go to Smallwood, with either Hollins or Agholor also back deep, although some of the defensive backs – such as Watkins – have kick returning on their resumes.

COVERAGE UNITS: There seemed to be some slippage in this area during the preseason, but the hope is that it was more the net result of mixing and matching personnel and less that they will miss Bryan Braman, who was not retained as a free agent, or that coordinator Dave Fipp has been “figured out.” While Burton has made himself an integral part of the offense, Maragos is primarily just a special teamer now. Watkins and Grugier-Hill will be asked to become leaders of a next generation that will include Hollins, considered one of the best special teams players in college football the last few years.

* denotes starters

This preview/column/analysis first appeared at phillyphanatics.com

Everybody’s Talkin’


Tom Hampton




Is it more scary if I shout it over and over again? Try to make it sound intimidating?

In case you haven’t gotten the memo, ANTIFA is the new right-wing boogeyman…the new dog whistle that’s supposed to give them an easy label to slap on everyone who disagrees with them. It’s all over social media…I even had some nutjob try to tell me last night that Rachel Maddow was “Anti FA” (sic).

If you’re “of a certain age”, you’ve seen this movie before.
“ANTIFA” is the new “SOCIALIST”, which was the new “LIBERAL” – brought to you by that political genius Lee Atwater, who made Willie Horton famous almost thirty years ago.

The thing that ends up being lost on the folks for whom these false flag labels are such delicious fodder is that – well, yeah…the irony is almost comical.

“ANTIFA” is a chopped label for “Anti-Fascist”…I’ll leave it to you and Google to determine whether that’s a label someone should be ashamed of. As for me – I’m not gonna lose any sleep over being labelled “Antifa” by a social media troll.
Before that – remember how “Socialist” used to be the slur of choice? That one was especially delicious coming from folks who were on Medical Assistance, Food Stamps, Welfare or some other form of Government-provided aid…using the word “Socialist” as a term of derision for those with whom they had some form of political disagreement with, while benefitting from the very definition of the word.

And of course, there was “Liberal” – which came into fashion as a derogatory term for us softies on the left during the Bush-Dukakis race in 1988 and eventually subsided in the shadow of newer, less rationally explainable terms in its wake.

To wear the label of Liberalism as some form of shame was handed off to the media in the backfield at that point in time, and some of them are still running with that ball, all these years later. Somehow, a few suits in front of news cameras managed to spread the notion that “Liberals” were somehow inferior, and in the wake of the Reagan Fever that swept America in the eighties, a lot of basic notions were forgotten.

Somewhere along the way, folks managed to conflate “Liberal and Conservative” with “Democrat and Republican” – they forgot all about the tectonic shifts that took place during the Civil Rights era and Nixon’s subsequent Southern Strategy – and how Republicans inherited the Conservative mantle as the Dixiecrats of old died off or were replaced in Congress.

But “Liberal” and “Conservative”? Those have always been pretty accurate labels.

Now, I’m not ranting with the direct purpose of slandering Conservatives, because – where traditional Conservatism is concerned, anyway – on the surface, the two terms are nothing more than labels for differing political viewpoints. Blonde and Brunette. City Slicker and Country Boy. Punks and Mods. Jocks and Nerds. Liberals and Conservatives.
And it likely would’ve remained within that echelon until someone decided to try to weaponize the word “Liberal” and make it derogatory…and the world played along.

But, y’know – I’m sorry, but I ain’t playin’ that shit.

Call me a Liberal all day, every day. I’m happy to wear that label.

It’s tempting to rehash the laundry list of instances where Liberals fought for, bled for, and – in some cases, DIED for many of the things we take for granted nowadays…from voting and civil rights to the 40 hour work week. But if you care about that at all, you know that already – and if you don’t, you won’t care now, either.

So call me Liberal. Or “Socialist”. Or “Antifa” if you want.

Because all you’re doing is publicly telling the world that you’re declaring yourself to be on the wrong side of history.




Birds With A Burden




GORDONVILLE — In high school, I was more freak than geek.

In adulthood, well, another story.

If my adoration for Star Trek isn’t enough, I often prefer documentaries over movies – especially if the movies in questions are sequels to sequels of rebooted sequels full of car-chase scenes, unrealistic fight sequences and gratuitous violence.

Then there is sports. I was always fascinated with drafts – all drafts, but football in particular.

I remember running home from school, turning on KYW and waiting for a report on the NFL Draft (I’m old enough to remember it being on a weekday and not in prime time). I was glued to the TV when the draft was broadcast on ESPN for the first time, and fascinated to learn – from a fellow counselor at Blue Bell Day Camp named Bill – that there was this thing called the “Ourlad’s Guide to the NFL Draft.”

Yes, I’m a draft geek, which put me in the Fantasy Football realm (always downhill after the draft).

That may be why I’m one of the few who boldly goes where no one with a life goes and watches as many preseason football games as possible.

And when it comes to the Eagles, well, I go one step beyond. From the VCR of yore to the DVR methods of the present day, I make sure I gather all the worthless knowledge I can about undrafted free agents with as much chance of making the team as I do.

With the 2017 preseason upon us, and the first glimpse of new faces – or others in the limelight of expanded roles – it is a time to dream through the eyes of others.

Like all good geeks.

But through it all – and through my training as a journalist – I can keep it real, too.

For every longshot that snares the last spot or two on the 53-man roster or turns up on the practice squad, the fortunes of the Eagles and their championship drought dating back to five years before I was born are going to ride on the shoulder-padded shoulders of players who need to live up to their advance billing.

At present, I have the Eagles anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6. That’s a big gap, especially since 10-6 would likely mean at least a wild card berth in the playoffs.

I also expect a lot of close games – games that are decided not so much by the final score but by the few key plays that turned it around one way or the other.

Who needs to make these plays, making the difference between 6-10 and 10-6 and all points in between?

These guys do:

1) Carson Wentz, QB: “Ah, come on,” you say. “Cut the kid a break.” Nope, can’t go there. That was last year. Wentz only started a season and a half in college. And while he led North Dakota State to a pair of national titles, it was at a lower level than Division I. The 16 starts last year were bonus time. Now we need to see some progress. Wentz has all the tools – size, arm strength, mobility, leadership skills and what has been billed as a photographic memory – but the football graveyard has a whole section for quarterbacks buried after the same obituary was written. Last year, especially early, we saw a glimpse of the possibilities. But we also got a heavy dose of reality. While he took almost every snap, learning on the job, we learned that his mechanics were so off that it was painful to watch. And in this system, the West Coast offense, he needs to do two things that Donovan McNabb subsisted on (despite being woefully inconsistent on short- and medium-range passes ): throwing a deft screen pass and being fairly accurate on the deep ball. Last year, we chalked up Wentz’s misfires to inexperience. This year, with an offseason to work on it with a quarterback guru, and with Darren Sproles to catch screens and newcomers Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery to get open deep, the franchise quarterback is under both a microscope and magnifying glass to get the ball into those hands.

Eagles-Ertz2) Zach Ertz, TE: Here in Philly, we sometimes get caught gazing at our own bellybuttons. When that happens, we are prone to think the guys in green are more impactful than they truly are in the overall picture. Here is where the Fantasy Football geek in me pays dividends. I know, from my own painful experience with Ertz and from the litany of Fantasy draft guides I read, that Ertz – a non-entity as a blocker in the real world – is in the upper middle class of tight ends (i.e. not in the top 10, but not quite middle of the pack) when it comes to receiving production. The major issue here has been the Red Zone. Out of 17 targets – more than one per game (he played in 14) – Ertz had four touchdown catches in 2016. The year before,  he had just two. There have been injuries and excuses made, but the fact is that a one-way tight end with his size and the skills he has flashed should be a security blanket for a young QB. That’s what Ertz needs to be, and not just in a double-digit game or two to pad his statistics. Stay healthy, get open and catch the ball. Two-way tight ends are coming back into vogue, so his time in Philadelphia – let alone the league, at least as anything more than a role player – could be more numbered than we realize on the surface.

3) Derek Barnett/Vinny Curry, DE: Violating two rules here: 1) putting undo pressure on a rookie, like Barnett and 2) cheating a bit by putting two guys together in one entry. However, the Eagles went into the offseason desperate for an upgrade at cornerback and had the good fortune of a draft that was deep in corner prospects. Some teams chose to use that depth as a reason to wait, but it was a luxury the Eagles could not afford. The wiser move – particularly after some surprises in the 13 picks before them – was to swim against the tide and take Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) or Adoree’ Jackson (USC) or Garreon Conley (Ohio State). Instead, they went with Barnett, who was clearly the guy they had fixated on all along. The thinking was that a relentless pass rush was the panacea for sub-par corners trying to hang with super human wide receivers. And let’s be honest here, they are placing all this pressure on Barnett because Curry, despite a hefty contract that says otherwise, has not consistently produced (especially since getting said contract) as a pass-rushing specialist. Last year, for example, the since-vanquished Marcus Smith had as many sacks (2½) as Curry. In fact, nine of Curry’s 19 career sacks came in 2014. In football years, than may as well be 1914. So now we have Barnett, whose name comes attached with Reggie White because he broke White’s sack record at Tennessee, being asked to step in and be in contention for NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year in order to justify his choice. Since the pick, I have gone back and watched some Tennessee games on the SEC Network (total geek move, I know), and he was an absolute beast. Not only did he make plays, but he did it at key times. Let’s hope that carries over, as the Eagles went for a corner in the second round, Washington’s Sidney Jones, who is likely to miss the season with an Achilles injury that bumped him out of the first round. As a bonus to Barnett being dominant, maybe Curry can recapture some of his 2014 form and the two – in combination with Brandon Graham – can create enough consistent pressure to offset the still unaddressed weakness at corner. Additionally, this trio – and we can only really count on Graham right now – can free up space for defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks to come clean and make plays. It’s a ripple effect that needs to happen.

4) Jason Peters/Lane Johnson, OT: May as well go back and draw water from the 2-for-1 well once more, because this is really where the house of cards could ultimately stand or fall. Peters, while likely ticketed for Canton, is not playing at that high of a level anymore. At age 35, he has been to nine Pro Bowls and is a six-time first- or second-team All-Pro selection, but most of those honors now come by rote from voters who don’t see him on a play-in-and-play-out basis. Though signed through 2019, via extension from his “best friend” Jeffrey Lurie, the realistic hope is that he stays intact for the 2017 season. If he doesn’t, Johnson moves from right tackle – a spot where was becoming stone-cold dominant before leaving a 3-1 team with a 10-game suspension for his second PED strike – to left, and Hal Vaitai moves into the right tackle spot. Then again, given Johnson’s history, he better not take even a Tylenol without a team official present. The Eagles really need both bookends on the field. If that happens, the run game will be effective enough that Wentz won’t have to throw 50-plus times per game.

5) Caleb Sturgis, K: Snicker at a kicker all you want. Your smiles will turn to frowns if he costs you a game – or two or three or five. There is no reason to suspect Sturgis won’t continue to be solid (135 points last season on the strength of an 85.4 percent accuracy rate), but we are talking about delicate geniuses here who usually wear out their two- or three-year welcome and need a change of scenery to get their mojo back. Consider this a preemptive warning that the meter on Sturgis – unless he is more Justin Tucker than Alex Henery – is running in his third year in green. Assuming he does not regress, it is vital he hit as many makeable kicks as possible while showing he can hit from a distance (53-yard long in 2016 and 55-yard long last season). In close game, a missed or made field goal can make all the difference between crying in your beer or raising it in victory.

This column/analysis originally appeared at Phillyphanatics.com

The ‘Rocky’ Class of 2017




GORDONVILLE — Blame it on George Washington.

No, not the high school in Northeast Philly.

No, not the double-decker bridge connecting Fort Lee, N.J., to Upper Manhattan.

Talking about the father of our country.

The original GW.

The guy who could tell no lies.

Why, you may ask?

Because when he led the rag-tag Colonial army to victory over the superior forces of the British Army, it was the upset of all upsets.

Vegas odds had the war ending, in Britain’s favor, within an over/under time frame of eight months. Instead, after eight years, a new nation was born.

And we Americans have embraced underdogs ever since.

Even if a nameless and faceless No. 5 seed is playing a No. 4 seed during March Madness, we are now genetically engineered to cheer for the No. 5 seed for no other reason.

In Philadelphia, where the country was born, we have an incurable case of US (Underdog Syndrome). We have it so bad that we erect statues to a fictional character, Rocky Balboa, because he was the ultimate cinematic underdog.

And when it comes to our football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, a new Rocky figure is born every August when some kid with a relatable tale to tell comes out of nowhere to make an unlikely run for a roster spot.

The franchise’s past includes many such figures – such as 1948 and 1949 title-winning quarterback Tommy Thompson, who was blind in one eye – but really came into focus during the tenure of Dick Vermeil, who molded a championship contender out of a lot of undrafted and recycled free agents and low draft picks.

The most notable Rocky figure in football gear is Vince Papale, whose story – although “Hollyweirded” – was told in the movie “Invincible.”

In actuality, another Eagle in the Dick Vermeil Era – Lem Burnham – may have made for a better flick. Originally a 15th round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1974 (out of U.S. International, where he played after a decorated four-year stint in the Marines), Burnham played with the Hawaii team in the ill-fated WFL (as did Papale, for the Philadelphia Bell) and then made the Eagles, albeit after stopover with the Washington Redskins and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Burnham led the Eagles in sacks with in 1977 with 10.

An undersized defensive end (234 pounds), he remained with the Eagles all the way through the 1980 NFC championship season, although he spent it on IR. Burnham then worked as the team psychologist for the Eagles and 76ers, and later the Baltimore Orioles before moving on work as an executive with the NFL and developing the rookie symposium.

The Buddy Ryan Era saw several Rocky types. Running back Junior Tautalatasi was a college backup out of Washington drafted in the 10th round who turned a big preseason, and a Keith Byars injury, into an opening-day start in the backfield. He started one other game as a rookie and caught 41 passes after settling in as the third-down back. Unable, or unwilling, to say his last name, Ryan dubbed the oft-injured Tautalatasi “Junior Smith.”

And who could forget Marvin Hargove? He was the Willingboro, N.J., native who had an OK college career at Richmond, but still asked Ryan for a chance. A receiver/returner, Hargrove ran a 4.5 40 and, probably as more of a PR stunt, was put on the training camp roster in 1990. Added to the roster during the season, he caught a touchdown pass from Randall Cunningham on his first snap, only to never catch a pass again before being released before the end of the season.

Running back Vaughan Hebron and quarterback Jay Fiedler each made the team as undrafted rookies under Rich Kotite. Hebron later won a Super Bowl ring with the Denver Broncos while Fielder bounced around, including a stint in Europe, before becoming the starter in Miami and leading the Dolphins to their only playoff win since Dan Marino retired.

Andy Reid was known for giving undrafted rookies opportunities and folk heroes included Sam “Truck Driver” Rayburn and receiver Chad Hall, who came by way of a hitch in the Air Force.

Since Chip Kelly generally had his 53-man roster set in his head no matter who did what in training camp, we’ll give him credit for current tight end Trey Burton – and deduct points for not even finding a spot on the practice squad for home-grown receiver Rasheed Bailey – and move to the present regime.

A year ago, in Doug Pederson’s first year, it was undrafted receiver Paul Turner out of Louisiana Tech who turned a strong preseason into practice squad berth and an eventual promotion to the active roster.

Which brings us to the present. Who will be this year’s player who steps out of the shadows and threatens to shake up the depth chart and, at the very least, create a nice storyline for a few weeks?

Here is a list of likely suspects to steal your heart:

1. David Watford, WR: A college quarterback (three years at Virginia, one at Hampton), Watford had a promising showing as a UDFA last summer while learning the receiver position, even catching a touchdown pass in a preseason game. He was kept on the practice squad and could really shine, without much advance fanfare this year. He was the athleticism and size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) as well as a work ethic and desire to learn that has made him a favorite among the coaches, who seem to have seen more long-term potential than with Turner. He could just as easily become a fan favorite next. If drafted rookies Mack Hollins and/or Shelton Gibson struggle or Nelson Agholor continues to play himself off team while Watford makes plays, look out.

2. Aaron Grymes, CB: Like Watford, Grymes plays a noticeable position and one of dire need, meaning fans could be drawn to any light he might shine on a dark situation. Grymes, like Watford, played well last preseason – after standing out in the CFL – and could not only push for a roster spot but for playing time in nickel and dime packages.

3. Joe Walker, LB: Almost a lock to make the team, Walker is the reason the Eagles didn’t really go hard for linebacker depth during the offseason. A seventh-round pick last year, he had the team made before a knee injury. Still, for the average fan there is the out-of-sight, out-of-mind aspect that will make him popular in the preseason. Plus, the whole “battling-back-from-injury” angle always plays well in Philly.

4. Corey Clement, RB: Like Papale, Hargrove and Bailey, the undrafted 1,000-yard rusher last season at Wisconsin has the local thing working for him, as he is from Glassboro, N.J. Clement was projected be a mid-round pick but his tweener status – 5-11, 209 with middling speed and power – made him hard to peg and he slipped through the cracks. Nonetheless, backs in this category have found by-committee success in the NFL by just hitting the holes that are there without any extra fancy footwork. While fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is the most likely rookie to excite in the preseason, Clement only has the likes of last year’s fifth-round pick Wendell Smallword and Byron Marshall in his way to carve a place for himself.

5. Randall Goforth, DB: An UDFA out of UCLA, Goforth was productive, passionate and always around the ball in college. His size (a generous 5-10, 190) makes him tough to project at safety, and a lack of elite speed (north of 4.5) limits him at just the slot as a corner. Still, a football player is a football player is a football player. As is the case with Grymes, the lack of clarity in the secondary creates a real chance here.

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

Training Wheels Off For Training Camp




Just stop already, will ya?

No more lamenting every pitch of this long-lost Phillies season. How many times can you watch the same paint dry?

And who cares if Costa Rica beats Belgium in soccer?

Golf? Please.

Tennis? No comment.

This week we will be counting down the days until the 2017 version of the Philadelphia Eagles begin training camp under second-year head coach Doug Pederson.

To get you primed for prime time, here is a positional primer to get you more up to speed than if you were watching perpetual left turns in a NASCAR race (only to interrupted by a fiery crash and debris soaring into the crowd).



Eagles-Foles1The Play Call: Easy peasy. Carson Wentz returns – hopefully wiser and more settled, in terms of mechanics – after his baptism by fire a year ago. Nick Foles (left), whose biggest crime was achieving near-perfection in 2013 (a league-best 119.2 QB rating, largely on the strength of 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions in 13 starts), comes back to town as the backup. It is doubtful the brass wants to keep more than these two on the active roster, meaning third QB Matt McGloin – who has somehow managed to parlay a middling career at Penn State into seven career starts (six as a rookie) in four years in the NFL with the Raiders – is here to take preseason snaps and have good enough tape on himself that he would get a call from another team, or the Eagles, if catastrophe would strike. Fourth quarterback Dane Evans will forever be associated with Dorial Green-Beckham because he was officially added to the roster when the plug was pulled on Project DGB. Evans, a Tulsa product, could play himself onto the practice squad with a solid camp and showing in preseason games.

Audible: Only needed if Wentz, or even Foles, goes down. Would the Eagles feel comfortable with McGloin as a backup? Also, it remains to be seen how much leash the restless fan base will give Wentz in his second year when many still have Foles jerseys hanging in their closets.


The Play Call: With Ryan Mathews’ career in limbo after a neck injury last year, the Eagles went out got themselves a similar two-down option in 250-pound bulldozer LaGarette Blount, who has a pair of 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, as well as a career average of 4.4 yards-per-carry average. Last year, while earning a ring with the Patriots, he ran for 18 touchdowns. However, while Mathews was also a decent receiver out the backfield, Blount is more one-dimensional (season-high for catches was 15 in 2011, his second in the league). The Eagles have the ideal complement in Darren Sproles, the quintessential third-down back/return man-type whose all-purpose numbers (8th all-time) have put him at the precipice of Hall of Fame consideration when his career concludes, possibly as soon as the end of this season. Planning ahead, the Eagles aggressively pursued San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey to be Sproles’ successor by moving up in the fourth round to grab him. Despite both being diminutive, they are not apples-to-apples in body build (Sproles is 5-6 and around 190, while Pumphrey is generously listed at 5-9 and 170). And while Pumphrey put up record-setting all-purpose numbers in college, he was rarely used as a return man. The Eagles’ are reportedly giving him a crash course on bringing back kickoffs (punts are more a risky proposition for the uninitiated), but expect some growing pains in terms of decision-making.

Audible: Blount, Sproles and Pumphrey – barring injury to any of the three – are the only locks to make the squad. And with two active quarterbacks, that leaves open a job for a fifth running back or a sixth receiver. Wendell Smallwood, last year’s fifth-round pick from the Eagles’ new minor-league affiliate, West Virginia, had a 100-yard game early in the season and also returned a kick for a touchdown, but he faded while being dogged by injuries and didn’t finish the year on the active roster. Smallwood would still have the inside track on the No. 4 spot, but nothing is guaranteed. That means any touches – carries, catches or return chances – for high-end UDFA (undrafted free agent) Corey Clement (from Wisconsin by way of Glassboro, N.J.) and versatile Byron Marshall could prove meaningful. Clement, who gained 1,375 yards and scored 15 touchdowns against Big 10 competition last year, could unseat Smallwood with a good camp, while Marshall, like Pumphrey, could make keeping a sixth receiver a luxury if they can each double as decent slot receivers.


The Play Call: On the surface, the Eagles created a more stable situation for Wentz at the much-maligned receiver spot. But free-agent signee Alshon Jeffrey was only inked to a one-year, make-good deal. Torrey Smith’s alleged five-year contract is really just a series of five one-year deals. Jordan Matthews, who moves back to his more comfortable slot position, goes into the season as a pending free agent. Best-case scenario, all three are retained for the long haul Worst-case, none are – meaning the Eagles will start all over the following year. Hopes still hinge on 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor answering his wake-up call from the front desk. The impromptu release of DGB suggests Agholor at least earned another chance for himself. The Eagles also drafted two receivers, albeit in the fourth and fifth rounds. Mack Hollins out of North Carolina brings shovel-ready special teams skills but might be a work in progress as a receiver. Shelton Gibson, the fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, is reportedly not catching on – literally and figuratively – to the speed of the pro game, but his college credentials are solid.

Audible: Last year’s training camp head-turner, Paul Turner, got time at the end of the season and showed some ability as a slot receiver who could at least handle return-game responsibilities in a pinch. Converted quarterback David Watford was kept around last year on the practice squad and could make a push for a roster spot if someone ahead of him on the depth chart isn’t careful – or remains careless. And then there is Bryce Treggs, now a rightful afterthought. All he needs to do is get behind a fourth-string UDFA in a preseason game for a long touchdown and he will come back from the dead to be a folk hero.

Eagles-ErtzTIGHT END

The Play Call: Easy peasy here, too. Zach Ertz (left), Brent Celek and Trey Burton. All that remains to be seen is if Ertz finally makes the leap to being an elite tight end or continues to be a tease in that regard. Celek and Burton form the ideal supporting cast for a star. That’s all on Ertz and how he is used. Celek, like Sproles, is likely in his last season, but is a solid No. 2 tight end as a blocker, underneath receiver and respected team leader. Wentz and Burton developed a nice rapport last year – connecting 37 times – and Burton’s versatility may also be deployed a bit as a fullback in certain sets.

Audible: The Eagles have two other tight ends in camp – A.D. Denham and UDFA Billy Brown – and a good preseason could set one or the other on a path to go from the 2017 practice squad to the roster in 2018.


The Play Call: The unofficial depth shows the starters – from left to right – as venerable Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson. Some have gone so far as to suggest this is best unit in the NFC and maybe the whole NFL. A closer look reveals some lingering questions. Barbre was allowed to shop himself around the league and had no takers. Kelce seems to be on an early downslide for an NFL pivot, with his physique (6-3, 282) being a likely culprit. Brooks struggled with some mental issues last year while Johnson was suspended for 10 games for PED violations. Depth, though, seems sound. Isaac Seumalo, the third-round pick in 2016, can play anywhere on the line and could be the heir apparent for either Barbre or Kelce, although veteran Stefen Wisniewski would be better suited to start at either spot in the short term. After struggling in his first career start as a fifth-round rookie, Hal Vatai played decently in Johnson’s stead. The Eagles are also trying to revive the career of guard Chance Warmack, who played at Alabama under offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland (and was probably overdrafted as result). And then there is Josh Andrews, who always manages to hang on to a low-end roster spot through coaching and regime changes.

Audible: The team is likely to keep 10 offensive linemen on the active roster, which will make camp battles interesting. Second-year man Dillon Gordon was an undrafted free agent who was kept on the roster last year because it was believed he would be a hot commodity for some other team if put on the practice squad. Hard to believe he did anything to make them lose faith in Peters’ hand-picked protégé. Then there is guard/tackle Matt Tobin, who has plenty of playing time under his belt, although much of it is forgettable. Wasted 2014 fifth-round pick Taylor Hart, who was waived last year as a defensive lineman, is back trying to cut it as an offensive tackle. Also keep an eye peeled on both Tyler Orlosky and Darrell Greene. Orlosky, a center, was this year’s highest-paid UDFA and Greene was last year’s highest-paid UDFA (only to set a world’s record for being released and brought back on the practice squad). Interesting to note that Greene blocked for Pumphrey at San Diego State and Orlosky for Smallwood at West Virginia.


Eagles-Cox with footballDEFENSIVE LINE

The Play Call: The locks are Fletcher Cox (left) and newcomer Timmy Jernigan inside and Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and first-round pick Derek Barnett likely rotating outside. With third tackle Beau Allen injured for possibly the first 4-6 games of the season, meaning he could land on short-term injured reserve, sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls would seem to have a job locked up.

Audible: Nothing else is guaranteed, and how well the rest of the group of aspiring Eagles plays will determine if eight, nine or even 10 linemen are kept. Hence, these roster battles will be worth watching. Chris Long, the song of Howie Long, was signed off the champion Patriots’ scrap heap and he could provide professional and depth at end, but he will fend off challenges from the likes of 2014 first-round bust-in-the making Marcus Smith and 2017 seventh-rounder Alex McAlister, who spent last year on IR and added bulk to his 6-6 frame. A summer ago, journeyman Steven Means came out of nowhere to earn a roster spot. If he has another strong camp, it could send someone – Long, Smith, McAlister (or two of three) – to the street. Destiny Vaeao made it as a UDFA last year and played decently early in the season before seeing his playing time diminish, but he could easily play himself onto the squad again as an extra tackle.


The Play Call: Assuming mercurial middle linebacker Jordan Hicks didn’t injure his hand too badly on his honeymoon and outside linebacker Nigel Bradham will have his legal woes in the rear-view mirror, this group should be OK. Mychal Kendricks, talented but underutilized last year by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, returns to man the other outside spot. Depth is bolstered by the return of Joe Walker, last year’s seventh-round pick who looked like a major draft steal until tearing his knee before the season. Versatile veteran and special teams’ standout Najee Goode also returns.

Audible: The Eagles can go with nine or 10 defensive lineman and/or nine or 10 defensive backs by keeping just six linebackers. That would leave one job open and it would likely come down to a battle between two hybrid outside linebacker/safety types in Kamu Grugier-Hill (6-2, 220) and recent fifth-round pick Nathan Gerry (6-2, 209). How they look on special teams and passing-down packages will go a long way toward securing a job (although Gerry could land on the practice squad). Also in the mix is Villanova product Don Cherry, a middle linebacker who was solid enough a year to be kept around on the practice squad.


The Play Call: Still remains to be seen how it will all shake out. Veteran Patrick Robinson is the next in a succession of first-round stones from elsewhere that the Eagles are hoping to get some blood from, while Jalen Mills – who gave it the old college try against pros as a seventh-round pick getting a lot of work last year – will either man the other outside spot or shuffle between outside and the slot. Much of that depends on a series of unknowns and what remains the team’s weakest link. Will Ron Brooks, an experienced slot corner, return from injury or will he be waived once he is medically cleared? Will second-round pick Sidney Jones, who slid on draft boards out of the top half of the first round because of a ruptured Achilles, be miraculously healed or will he go on the extended or full-season IR? Will third-round pick Rasul Douglas – from, you guessed it, West Virginia – be ready for prime time?

Audible: A savior could still be found. There has been talk of Darrelle Revis, but there is the same buzz around about a dozen other teams. A more realistic answer could be unearthed in house by the likes of Aaron Grymes, who played in the CFL before getting a chance last summer. Grymes was making a name for himself before getting injured. He was waived with a settlement, quietly brought back to the practice squad and was reportedly one of the stars of the recent team workouts. There is also C.J. Smith, who was a teammate of Wentz at North Dakota State and played a bit on special teams last year. Others who will get longer looks then perhaps anywhere else in the league include Dwayne Gratz, Mitchell White and Jomal Wiltz.


The Play Call: All good here with starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Chris Maragos would be a lock to make the team because he is a Pro Bowl-level special teams’ player, but a viable third safety to play ahead of him on defense needs to be found at this point.

Audible: It’s all right there for Jaylen Watkins, but that’s an old song. The former fourth-round pick, who was cut and then brought back, has had opportunities at every spot in the secondary and has been good enough to not quite be good enough. Versatility and special teams’ acumen could keep him employed, but not if Terrence Brooks, probably a better pure safety, makes him expendable. Randall Goforth, an UDFA from UCLA, is undersized (5-10, 190), but could turn some heads after a productive college career.


The Play Call: Donnie Jones punts and holds the snaps from Jon Dorenbos while Caleb Sturgis does the kicking. Easy peasy, right? Well, maybe.

Audible: Rookie UDFA punter Cameron Johnston has a strong leg. Dorenbos isn’t getting any younger, is coming off an injury and has a legit challenge to fend off from the guy who finished the season in his stead last season, Rick Lovato.

This column/analysis originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com

A Cool Idea





GORDONVILLE – It is a typical pastime in a typical American.

What will your child be when they grow up?

Not sure yet on Sofia. Many roads to travel, and passions to come and go.

However, it would surprise me if she wanted to be like her old man and be a writer – even if it’s a side thing while making real money in the real world with a real job.

How do I know this?

Because she loves stories. Not just to be amused, but to retain for future use. I can talk by the look in her eyes that it is being retained, kind of like bank deposits to retain interest (i.e. embellishment).

We drive through Conshohocken, and she queries her mommy all about her hometown with questions well beyond that of the average incoming missile of a ‘tween.

The other night, she asking me about old Atlantic City – the Atlantic City I remember as a kid around her current age; the Atlantic City before gambling made it the weird combination of glitz and the pits that it is now.

Among the stories was how my grandfather, Poppie, would wake up each day and, with a broad smile on his easy-going face, ask if it was a “beach day or a Two Guys day.”

Two guys, for the uninitiated, was a catch-all department store – a sorta pre-historic Target – where they had it all, from an arcade and a place to eat to a furniture department.

You could buy food, a new baseball glove or bell-bottom jeans for your platform shoes.

After Sofia drifted to sleep – these stories are often meant as biofeedback to cure summertime insomnia – an old idea resurfaced it what is left of my brain.

Beach day or a Two Guys Day?

That more or less sums up the forecast for every day from Memorial Day through Labor Day, does it not?

Especially here in the Melting Ice Age, the forecast is pretty much in the same octave range, is it not?

It is either going to be hot or very hot, with a chance of rain to varying degrees.

So, I wondered, why do we need met meteorolgists in the summertime?

No offense to them, or the profession.

And the world doesn’t need more journalists working at a coffee shop.

And the loss of eye candy – from any perspective — would mean less sweetness in the world.

All I’m talking about is a three-month furlough.

I’m willing to bet that nine out of 10 of us could care less, especially if the time is better spent on real news.

Seriously, why do we need to be told the obvious three times in a half-hour span – and all before the important news, like the sports?

Just throw a graphic up on the screen and the anchor can do a quick summary. Hot or very hot, and the chance of a thunderstorm by percentage.

In and out faster than Chris Christie at a burger joint drive-thru on his way to the beach.

And, since this is my idea, it must follow the rule of being after the sports, lest you run the risk of FCC fine.

I took the liberty of breaking out the calculator.

According the “fake news” on the “internets,” the average weather person makes $89,820 a year. There are four stations – the three networks plus FOX in Philadelphia, employing an average of three meterologists – which brings our three-month (Memorial Day to Labor Day) savings to $269,460 that can be donated to help causes more worthy than letting people know if it is going to be a beach day or a Two Guys Day.


Cope With No Hope


Cope With No Hope

Another long night, another slain teen

Take a sneak peek, as the dawn bleeds

Splash of cold water, read the tweets

News, views – more prayers for peace

By dusk a vigil, let the cycle repeat

Darkness descends, hear the screams

So go cope with no hope on these streets

So go cope with no hope on these streets


Up for air, come pastor and the priest

How many of these have they seen?

Hear what you want, not what you need

Sing a song, prayers for peace

From all this, who will take heed?

Maybe one day we all can break free

Until that day comes, hear the screams

So go cope with no hope on these streets

So go cope with no hope on these streets


Now it’s less than a week later

Pick up the local newspaper

Story is gone, never to be followed

Back to the zoo and its baby cougars

Those with jobs, head back to work

Once numb, how much can it hurt?

The root cause, never gets learned

On and on and on, the fire just burns


All that is said cannot be believed

Like blaming it all on the police

Is it the poverty or the money?

The money we all think we need

Take it past these prayers for peace

Prayers end when you hear the screams

So go cope with no hope on these streets

So go cope with no hope on these streets

-Gordon Glantz