Around the NFC East: Asomugha to Dallas?

Around the NFC East: Asomugha to Dallas?

If the Birds plan to make a serious run at the premiere free agent of 2011, as many observers suspect they will, they may face some competition in their own division. Rainer Sabin with the Dallas Morning News suggests the Cowboys will consider taking the plunge into the Nnamdi Asomugha market, both out of necessity and in an attempt to keep him away from a rival.

It's no secret the Eagles have something of a crater at one of their cornerback spots, and Asomugha is one of the best in the business. The franchise is also no stranger to major free agent signings, and they have the budget to make a splash this off-season.
We've been connecting the dots since January.

What we haven't discussed so much is the fact that there are other teams out there that wouldn't mind acquiring an Asomugha, and Dallas certainly could be one of them. Terence Newman is getting up there in years, and neither Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick have proven to be consistently shutdown. Jerry Jones isn't afraid to spend, either.

It's worth noting the Eagles were thought to be interested in DE Julius Peppers last year. The Bears, motivated by their lack of draft picks, and aided by not having to pay those players, eventually outbid the field with an outrageous offer.

Sabin's theory is just that, a theory, and maybe the Cowboys aren't interested at all (yeah, right), or they can't fit him into their budget (yeah, right). The Eagles are almost certainly interested though, and it won't hurt to have a division rival potentially lighting a fire under their asses.

Vince Young to Washington?

While Donovan McNabb technically remains a member of the Redskins, he's on his way out soon enough, and neither Rex Grossman or John Beck are what you would consider building blocks. They passed on the opportunity to go quarterback with the 10th overall pick, so it makes you wonder who really will be under center in our nation's capital this season.

One interesting thought, as introduced by Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, is Vince Young could be an option for Washington. Observers anticipate the Titans cutting the former third overall pick once the new league year begins, before he earns a sizeable roster bonus. Teams looking for an immediate starter with some upside might be inclined to go for this reclamation project.

Personally, I'm not sure VY couldn't make some noise if dropped in the right situation. His numbers really aren't that bad. While his completion percentage has dipped below 60% the past two seasons, everything else is improved; he's thrown 20 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over that timespan, and last season he finished with a career high 98.6 passer rating. Most impressive of all, the Titans were 30-17 in games Young started, and this without the benefit of a number one receiver for the majority of his career.

He's not somebody you want to see breaking the opposing team's huddle on Sunday, and under Mike Shanahan, there is no telling what Young's ceiling could be. There are some leadership issues there, and he's battled injuries, but he has all the physical tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, not to mention tremendous mobility.

Like the Asomugha rumor, it's pure conjecture. Again though, when you look at the simple facts that the Redskins need a starting quarterback, and their availability is limited, this makes some sense.

Danny Watkins or Cameron Jordan?

Last week, we listed some of the players the Eagles passed on in the draft, at least a couple of whom would have been high on many fans' wishlists. Yet another prospect still available when the Birds picked at 23, Cal's Cameron Jordan (6-4, 283), was recently spoken for by one of the all-time greats, Mr. Ray Didinger.

"My question was the value at that point in the draft: Would Jordan, an explosive pass rusher, have more impact than Watkins, a guard?"

A commenter once said to me something along the lines of, "Didinger is not the end-all, be-all on all things Eagles football," because I would cite his work so frequently when making my own point. Well, for once I actually disagree with the Hall of Famer, namely that Jordan is an explosive pass rusher.

Really, he is? I admit I'm no college football scout, but the statistics suggest something entirely different. Jordan amassed just 5.5 sacks in his senior season, falling short of a career-high 6 set in his junior season. All told, Jordan had 17 sacks total in four seasons, with one forced fumble.

Obviously stats don't tell the whole story, and there is a reason why Jordan went to the Saints with the very next pick. Scouts think his game will translate well at the next level. That being said, his game has never been that of an "explosive pass rusher," and while that certainly is a need, I'm not sure I agree Jordan was the player who fit the bill.

Giants Draft Overview

When Nebraska CB Prince Amukumara was finally selected with the 19th pick, one detail that may have gone slightly overlooked is the Giants were the fortunate club that won the sweepstakes.

Two seasons ago, the Eagles torched New York for 85 points combined in their two meetings. Since then, the Gmen have focused their efforts on reinventing their defense. Amukamara joins last year's big free agent acquisition FS Antrell Rolle as two frontline additions to a secondary that includes the very reliable CB Terrell Thomas and former first rounder SS Kenny Phillips. That group could become exceptionally difficult to throw against.

The Giants weren't finished with defense there, grabbing North Carolina DT Marvin Austin (6-2, 309) in the second round. Austin was kicked off the team in 2010 over contact with an agent, but he is an impressive talent and adds to a deep defensive line that includes a pair of All-Pro defensive ends, and last year's first round pick, DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Overall, the Giants have invested a lot of high draft picks and money in their defense the past couple years, and figure to match up with the Birds' athleticism better than the rest of the division going forward.

>> Fear of Asomugha landing in Philly could motivate Cowboys [Dallas News]
>> What's chirping: How can Miami Dolphins land a QB? [Sun-Sentinel]
>> Didinger's Eagles Mailbag: Examining the picks [CSN]

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas front-runners to face NFL's top receivers

Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Terrelle Pryor, Larry Fitzgerald. 

That's the murderers' row of receivers the Eagles will face during the 2017 season, cornerback deficiency and all. 

This week, we got our first look at who the Eagles are tasking with the unenviable challenge of trying to stop — or at the very least slow down — some of the best wide receivers in the NFL. 

At their first OTA practice of the spring, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson were the team's starters in the base package, while rookie Rasul Douglas was on the field as the third corner in the nickel package. 

"The way Coach Cory Undlin works and the way Coach (Jim) Schwartz works, this depth chart right now is not important," Mills said. 

"It's about going out there and proving to those guys each and every day that you deserve whatever spot they have you in or moving up the depth chart." 

While it's true the depth chart at the first practice in the spring might not mean much, and while it's also important to remember that veteran Ron Brooks is recovering from a quad tendon tear, if Mills, Robinson and Douglas perform well enough, they won't ever give up their jobs. 

Of course, that's a big if. 

Mills was a seventh-round pick last year, who had a decent season but also went through his ups and downs. Robinson is a 29-year-old former first-round pick but has never lived up to that draft status. And Douglas is a rookie third-round pick. 

"I really don't have any expectations, just to be the best player I can be," Robinson said. "If I'm the best player that I can be, then I'll be a starter."

It might seem like a stretch to think these three will be able to stop the marquee receivers they'll face this year. But it's not like the Eagles have much of a choice. Their two starting corners from a year ago are gone — Nolan Carroll signed with the Cowboys as a free agent and Leodis McKelvin was released and is still without a team. And it's not like either played well in 2016. 

The Eagles drafted Sidney Jones in the second round, but he's not close to returning from his Achilles tear and Brooks isn't yet ready to fully practice. The Eagles also have undrafted second-year corner C.J. Smith and former CFL all-star Aaron Grymes. 

But Mills, Robinson and Douglas are the best they have right now. 

On Tuesday, Mills and Robinson played outside in the team's base package, switching sides sporadically, but in the nickel package, Mills moved inside to slot corner while Douglas took over outside. So, basically, Mills is playing two positions, something Brooks did throughout training camp last season. 

Mills played both outside and slot corner last season, but not like he is now when it seems like he won't be leaving the field. With Mills' staying on the field to play in the slot, Malcolm Jenkins is able to stay back and be the defense's field general at safety instead of sliding down like he's done at times over the last two years. 

"I feel like it's going to be helpful," Mills said. "Not just for me, just for guys like Malcolm, a smart guy who can really play that back end and call out every single thing, whether it's run, pass or route concepts. With not really having him do the busy work and nickel and just have him be the smart, savvy vet on that back end, I think that kind of calms everybody down."

Douglas is the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Mills thinks having that type of size can help the team, especially as bigger receivers become more prevalent in the league. 

"You need a big, tall, aggressive guy," Mills said. "[Douglas has] been showing flashes here and there." 

Robinson didn't know much about Mills or Douglas before joining the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason, but the veteran of the trio has been impressed so far by his younger counterparts.  

Robinson has also been impressed by the level of competition he faced during the first day of spring practices. 

"That's definitely going to benefit me," Robinson said. "Torrey (Smith), with his speed, you get that type of speed every day in practice, it's definitely going to get you ready for the game. And then Alshon (Jeffery), with his big body and his great hands, his catching radius is definitely going to get me ready for games this season against the big guys."

The big and fast guys will be coming plenty during the 2017 season. Mills, Robinson and Douglas — for now — look like the guys who will try to stop them.