Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

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Can Stoutland save Danny Watkins' career?

Before you write off Danny Watkins, before you file him in the drawer labeled “Busts” along with Jaiquawn Jarrett and Macho Harris, Jeff Stoutland would like a word with you.

The word is Patience.

Stoutland is the Eagles' new offensive line coach and he thinks Watkins still can be a big-time player. He has read the scouting reports and watched the film and he is convinced there is a lot there. So don’t ship Danny Boy back to the firehouse just yet.

“I know what a good player looks like,” Stoutland said on Monday, “and I like what I see in Danny.”

Stoutland should know what a good player looks like. He spent the 2012 season coaching the Alabama offensive line, the line that crushed Notre Dame in the BCS title game, a line with three stud players -- center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker -- that will go early in April’s draft.

Watkins was a first-round pick two years ago but now he is viewed as a colossal mistake. He lost his starting job to a guy off the street (Jake Scott) last season. He fell so far out of favor with the Eagles' coaches that he didn’t even dress for the final two games.

Most fans see Watkins as a lost cause. Stoutland sees something entirely different.

“I think Danny Watkins is a winner,” Stoutland said. “He’s athletic, he’s explosive. I see a young man with a lot of talent.”

The first question that comes to mind is, “What film was Stoutland watching?” The player he described bore no resemblance to Watkins. It was almost painful to watch Watkins on film last season; he looked lost and ineffective.

Consider this: the Eagles started five different line combinations. They lost three starters to injury: Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans. By the end of the season, they were starting a seventh-round pick (King Dunlap), a rookie (Dennis Kelly), an undrafted free agent (Dallas Reynolds) and Scott, who was out of the league when the season began. And Watkins couldn’t crack that lineup?

There is a temptation to write him off as a bad pick, an over-aged college player with a limited football background, a reach that didn’t pan out. Those things happen. You cut your losses and move on. But the Eagles are determined to salvage Watkins, and Stoutland is the man entrusted with that responsibility.

Can it work? Like so much else about the Chip Kelly regime, we’ll have to wait and see. But at least Watkins has a clean slate with this staff and, in Stoutland, he has a coach who will do everything possible to rebuild his confidence.

Kelly described Stoutland as “a creative, cutting-edge line coach with old-school toughness.” He said Stoutland’s strength is his ability to make “complex things very simple.” That is exactly what Watkins needs if he hopes to succeed.

Stoutland will simplify things for Watkins. Howard Mudd, the previous line coach, made them more complicated. Mudd’s techniques were unlike anything most of the linemen had played before. It was particularly hard for Watkins, who had played so little football. Also, Stoutland believes in stressing the positive. Mudd was more critical. Maybe a pat on the back is what Watkins needs at this point.

Greg Austin, the assistant offensive line coach, is 28, the same age as Watkins. Like Stoutland, he believes in positive reinforcement.

“We’re going to be the most positive coaches on the field,” Austin said. “Jeff said, ‘I’ll never give up on one of our guys.’ I like that approach. I’m sure it will make guys play better.

“We’re going to put Danny in situations where he can be successful. There is no reason why he can’t be. He is a big, explosive guy. We want our linemen to play fast and physical. Danny can do that.”

Watkins has the size (6-3, 310 pounds) and strength. Watching him on film, it appears his biggest problem is indecision. If the defense runs a blitz or a stunt, Watkins is often left flat-footed with his head spinning. It has happened often enough that it wrecked his confidence. Instead of being the aggressive drive blocker he was in college, Watkins became a guy who was pushed around.

If Stoutland can put Watkins in a system he understands and teach him techniques that he is comfortable with, maybe then he can rebuild his confidence and develop into the lineman the Eagles drafted him to be. There is a lot riding on this. If Stoutland can’t unlock Watkins’ potential and he spends another year in the shadows, that probably will be the end of it and he will officially be a bust.

But Stoutland doesn’t foresee that.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on Danny and start coaching him,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

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MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."