Again With the Heat: Our Miniscule Chances of Going One for Four

Again With the Heat: Our Miniscule Chances of Going One for Four

Update: The Heat will be without D. Wade this evening.

You know what the most insulting part of the Heat's recent ownage of the
Sixers is? The Heat didn't even have the decency to beat the Celtics
last Sunday, getting creamed by the C's in Boston. Not only do they
insist on beating the Sixers every time the teams play, but when it
comes time for them to face one of the teams the Sixers need to drop a
couple for playoff-seeding purposes, they all of a sudden turn into a
middling squad imminently capable of losing games. Why does Miami insist
on torturing us so?

Somehow, we got matched up with this team four times this year—more
than we face off against several of our actual Atlantic Division
rivals—and tonight Miami goes for the four-game series sweep. It's hard
to tell what it is about this team that vexes Philly so that they can't
even seem to take advantage of the Heat while they're in a phone-it-in
stretch—bad matchups with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade? Lack of toughness
down low against Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony? LeBron James just being
that insultingly good? It's been infuriating for years now, and it
doesn't appear to be getting any less so anytime soon.

The good news is this: Even if we are chalking up the Miami game as
an automatic L, it's the last borderline-unwinnable game the Sixers play
this year. After this, the hardest games the Sixers play in their final
13 are two matchups each against the Pacers and Magic, both of whom
Philly has proven every bit capable of beating. No more Heat, no more
Bulls, no Spurs or Thunder or anyone else whose three-letter code on the
schedule sends chills down your spine. In addition, Philly gets two
games the lowly Raptors and three against the Nets, as well as one more
each against the lottery-bound Cavs and Pistons...the Sixers could
realistically finish the season on a 9-4 or 10-3 tear. (Or they could
fall apart and end up at .500 once more, and you may never hear from me
again.)

The other good news: We're getting something dangerously close to
"consistency" from Evan Turner of late. Here's ET's last four games from
the field: 10 points on 5-11 shooting, 12 points on 6-13, 11 on 5-7, 13
on 6-13. It's not as exciting as when he was tearing off 20/10-type
games in early March, but it's almost as encouraging—after endlessly
oscillating between Good and Bad Evan Turner, we appear to have settled
in a much more sustainable middle for the time being. Throw in the good
rebounding and ball-handling (he's only turned the ball over once in the
last three, with nine combined assists), and Evan has been one of the
team's most reliable producers the last week or so. We'll need him to do
a little more if the team's gonna have a shot in the playoffs, but for
now, we'll take the stability.

7:30 tip form American Airlines Arena. Do the Sixers stand a chance
of taking this one? I wish I could come up with some new advantage the
Sixers have, but aside from the fact that the Heat have been kind of
crummy on the road recently, there's not much to portend Sixers success
tonight. Still, if Philly can get blown out by the Wizards, clearly
anything is possible, and maybe Evan and Spencer Hawes were inspired by
their WWE experience
last night or something. Just pray that the matchups don't fall as such
that we have to do this four more times after the season wraps.

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

As Eagles training camp kicked into gear, head coach Doug Pederson sat down with Comcast SportsNet's Quick Slants crew earlier this week at the NovaCare Complex and addressed a number of Eagles topics with co-hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

In a nine-minute interview, Pederson talked about his philosophy of handling off-the-field issues when they arise, he spoke of how he wants this team to be different than a Chip Kelly team and — of course — he talked about his quarterbacks.

Here are some highlights of that conversation:

Quick Slants: What do you feel needs to change the most about the team from last year to this year?

Doug Pederson: "The biggest thing and really what I want to get across is we need to be a smarter football team, a tougher football team and we need to be a better-conditioned football team. That said, that covers a lot of ground, but it’s very simple when you break it down. Smarter means we need to eliminate penalties, a tougher football team is just that, we’ve got to find ways to win football games. And conditioning is just how well you perform in the fourth quarter and down the stretch. We need to be a better-conditioned football team and it’s something for them to work on."

QS: A lot of people are going to doubt you because of your lack of coaching experience. How do you handle that?

Pederson: “I’m OK with that. My life’s always been that way. Sort of been the underdog and sort of come out swinging. You just go day by day and you just work hard and you study tape and you put your players in great positions and you build relationships with your guys and eventually they’re going to run through walls for you and that’s what you want and that’s the type of coach I want the team and the players to see. And at the same time you’re fair and you’re honest and you’re up front with guys and when you come to Sundays, man, those guys are eager and ready to go.”

QS: Two of your players, Nelson Agholor and Nigel Bradham, were involved in off-the-field incidents this offseason. Agholor’s situation has been resolved but not Bradham’s. Generally speaking, what is your philosophy with this kind of thing? What message do you give to the players?

Pederson: “When the players step on the NovaCare property and they’re in the building, my message is always: ‘You’re representing the Philadelphia Eagles and the entire organization, guys, you’ve got to make smart decisions. You’re in a high-profile business. Everybody out there is a reporter, everybody’s got a cell phone, everybody wants to take your picture or antagonize you or do whatever they can do to see if you respond. You just have to be the bigger man, you’ve got to turn your back and walk away.’ And if something happens, we as a staff have to gather all the information we can and they will have to suffer the consequences if there’s going to be any down the road. So learn from your mistakes. We all make them. But let’s be smart about it and move on.”

QS: You’ve made it clear Sam Bradford is the No. 1 quarterback, Chase Daniel is No. 2 and Carson Wentz is No. 3. Why line up the depth chart that way?

Pederson: “For me, really when I evaluated the 2015 roster and the quarterback position, I felt like Sam Bradford was the guy for me. I felt like in conversations with Howie [Roseman] and when I hired [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] and [offensive coordinator Frank Reich], that he's going to be our guy. And it started there. … And then I wanted to go and get somebody. I didn't know I was going to get Chase Daniel, but I needed a quality backup and it just so happened that a Chase Daniel was there who knows the offense. So now you bring in a guy who knows the offense, who can help Sam, can help a young, third-string quarterback. At the time, I think we were picking [13th] in the draft, and then some things happened, some trades, some moves and now you're up to No. 2 and you take a quarterback. And the beauty of that is he doesn't have to play the first year right now. And we can develop him and focus our attention on Sam and getting him ready to go and get ready for Cleveland on Sept. 11.”

QS: The last 11 quarterbacks taken with a top-five pick have started at least 10 games. That goes back to JaMarcus Russell, who started just one game in 2007. So why make Wentz No. 3? What is the benefit of giving him a likely redshirt year?

Pederson: “The benefit is that he gets to learn our system, he gets to learn our players, gets to learn the city, gets to learn our fans. And gosh, coming to Philadelphia and that being your first year and you get thrown to the wolves right away? That can be very mind-blowing for a young quarterback. So being able to sort of protect him that way I think gives the longevity of his career, whether it's here or eventually somewhere else, who knows what's going to happen, but it gives the longevity and the confidence level that he'll have going into Year 2, becomes that much more important for him and really us as an organization.”

QS: What about Wentz made you think he could be the eventual franchise quarterback?

Pederson: “Well when you look at him, you kind of had flashes of Donovan [McNabb]. The athleticism, the big arm, the size, the whole thing, the way he can run and move. And the fact that he's a proven winner, he knows how to win. I know he had an injury his senior year but he was able to bounce back and win some championships. He knows how to win football games, and just watching him these last couple days with the rookies and his communication level with them, where he is mentally with our offense, is everything we sort of knew and read and studied and researched in the offseason before we drafted him and felt like he could definitely be potentially the quarterback of the future, whenever that is. But right now, like I mentioned, we're full steam ahead with Sam and we'll let everything kinda settle whenever it settles.”

QS: You’re an offensive coach and have never worked on the defensive side of the ball. Now as a head coach, what will your involvement be with the defense?

Pederson: “Yeah, I definitely want to have a hand in not necessarily game-planning but knowing and understanding the game plan and how [Jim Schwartz] plans on attacking an offense. And if there's any particular insight I have on the offense we're playing that week, I'll throw that information at him and vice versa. If he has knowledge of a defensive game plan then I'd love to hear that. Having those conversations on a weekly basis, staying plugged in, in-tune and open lines of communication and understanding how he's going about his defense that week and understanding what I'm doing.”

Jordan Matthews values impact of hard-working veterans like Darren Sproles

Jordan Matthews values impact of hard-working veterans like Darren Sproles

A year after coming just three receiving yards short of 1,000, Jordan Matthews didn’t want to talk about himself.

Matthews wasn’t willing to discuss the possibility of 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards or other lofty personal goals when asked about his individual ambitions for this season following Friday’s training camp session at the NovaCare Complex (see Day 5 observations).

“I don’t even talk about that,” Matthews said. “This is a city where we ain’t about talking, we’re about working.”

As soon as Darren Sproles’ name was mentioned, however, Matthews started gushing about the versatile 33-year-old veteran, whom the Eagles signed to a one-year, $4.5 million extension on Friday (see story).

“I love D, that’s my boy,” Matthews said.

“He comes out here and practices hard every single day. He’s a great role model, not just for the running backs but for me, when I see him go out there and make plays I’m like, ‘Shoot, I need to do that.’ I know Zach [Ertz] looks up to him, too. It’s crazy, we look up to a guy that comes up to our knee, but all of us were excited that he was able to sign back with us. He’s a tremendous asset to this team, great teammate, great brother, so I’m excited to have him back.”

Matthews repeatedly stressed the importance of veterans such as Sproles who set a great example for their teammates. For this Eagles team in particular, Matthews believes that Sproles’ elusive running style and versatility will be a tremendous model for several of the team’s young running backs to follow.

“If you look at all of our backs, Kenjon [Barner], Byron [Marshall], [Wendell] Smallwood — they’re versatile guys, and they can all learn from Sproles," Matthews said. "They got some shiftiness to them, especially Byron, I like what I’ve seen from him, so I think all those guys can learn a lot from Sproles.”

The Eagles would also love if one of those backs shows some ability as a returner and eventually assumes Sproles’ duties in that department. Sproles led the NFL in both punt return yards (446) and punt return touchdowns (two) last season. At the moment, the team is trying out a handful of players during return drills, including Oregon products Barner and Marshall, though we’ll have to wait until the pads appear on Saturday to start seriously evaluating talent in that role.

Another unique attribute of Sproles is his skill as a receiver. Since 2007, he ranks No. 1 in the league in receiving yards (4,146) and receiving touchdowns (28) out of the backfield. In the team’s new West Coast-hybrid system, there should be more opportunities for running backs, especially Sproles, to thrive catching the ball. Running backs coach Duce Staley, a dual threat out of the backfield the last time the Eagles ran a West Coast scheme, took several of the young backs aside during drills Friday to tweak their route-running techniques. 

In the competition for the final one or two running back spots on the roster next to Sproles and Ryan Mathews, who missed practice for a second straight morning and is day to day with a mild ankle injury, small distinctions between players as receivers and returners could determine who makes the team.

“We got a lot of talent there,” Pederson said. “Kenjon Barner is a kid who has shown some good strides this offseason, picking up the offense. You got Ryan there, you got Darren, and you got the young kids — Wendell we picked up, Byron Marshall, we got some guys with some talent.”

Returning his focus to his own position, Matthews continued to highlight the impact of veterans passing on their knowledge to younger players. According to Matthews, the offseason signings of Chris Givens and Rueben Randle, each of whom has four years of NFL experience, should help Nelson Agholor’s progression after a disappointing rookie season in which the USC product posted just 23 receptions. 

“[Agholor] didn’t have a Jeremy [Maclin] when he came in, a guy that was older, who had played five years, like I did," Matthews said. "But now you got Rueb, he’s got some experience, Chris has been around so he knows a couple things … he’s learned from guys like Steve Smith and other guys he’s played with, so we’re going to continue to help bring him along, but Nelson’s done a great job, he had a great practice today, so I’m definitely really optimistic about his maturation.”

For all his emphasis on first- and second-year talent learning from experienced players like Randle, Sproles or even the 24-year-old Matthews himself, don’t confuse Matthews’ reverence for Sproles and the veterans on the Eagles' roster with the sentiment that this year will be more about “maturation” than competitive success.

“I don’t look at this as a rebuilding thing or like a lot of chemistry has to get rebuilt,” Matthews said. “We’ve secured a lot of guys and it really does feel like family. … Guys genuinely love to be around each other.”

Matthews probably won’t get to spend more than two more years with his role model Sproles (see story), but the consistent work ethic and knowledge the 11-year veteran has passed on should definitely serve Matthews and his next generation of teammates well. 

Eagles add Brian Dawkins to scouting staff as fellowship winner

Eagles add Brian Dawkins to scouting staff as fellowship winner

Former Eagles great Brian Dawkins is back with the team. 

This time he can't hit anybody. 

Dawkins, 42, has been added to the Eagles' scouting department, as the inaugural winner of the Nunn-Wooden Scouting Fellowship, a new NFL program that's designed to introduce former players to scouting. 

The Eagles say Dawkins will "study and work closely with all phases of scouting and football operations departments." 

Obviously, Dawkins' resume as a player is impressive. After 13 seasons with the Eagles, he became an all-time great and an all-time favorite Eagle. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and is a member of the team's Hall of Fame. 

Dawkins is the Eagles' all-time leader in games played (183) and interceptions (34). 

But he was more known for his hard-hitting style, which has been slowly pushed out of today's NFL, which means in his new role, Dawkins might not be able to scout the same type of player he was himself.