Eagles Looking at Tight Ends, Punters

Eagles Looking at Tight Ends, Punters

While they are constantly tinkering with the 90-man roster, it's not always the Eagles make a move of consequence in late July. This week, there might be two.

The Birds tried out four punters on Monday, including two-time Pro Bowler and former Dallas Cowboy Mat McBriar, who Reuben Frank believes will eventually sign in Philadelphia. Then on Tuesday, the team is set to host Visanthe Shiancoe, while Tim McManus of the newly formed Birds 24/7 blog reported there is also interest in Jeremy Shockey, implying a veteran addition could be on the way at tight end as well.

All of which might amount to competition for Chas Henry and Clay Harbor -- or it could mean the writing is on the wall for one or both.

The news at tight end is certainly the more interesting of the two developments. Harbor had been rumored to be locked in a position battle for the backup spot behind Brent Celek since minicamps, but the only competition as of now is Brett Brackett and Chase Ford, a pair of undrafted rookies. According to Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles used either two tight ends or six offensive linemen 30% of the time in 2011, so it's a fairly significant roster spot.

Harbor's blocking is mainly what seems to be under fire, which accounted for roughly two-thirds of his snaps last year according to Pro Football Focus. A fourth-round pick in 2010, Harbor has nice size and athleticism, and it translated well the few times he was targeted on a route last season (13 rec on 19 att for 163 yds, 1 TD -- via FO). However, that accounts for so little of his action, while the blocking has become a more prevalent role as the offense continues its transition to more singleback formations under OL coach Howard Mudd.

While both are into their thirties, either Shiancoe or Shockey might represent an improvement in that department. Both are more accomplished receivers as well.

After starting his career with the Giants to little notoriety, Shiancoe played the last five seasons in Minnesota, averaging 42 receptions and 485 yards. He also caught 11 touchdowns in 2009. Shockey is the more renowned -- and disliked -- of the two. Selected 14th overall by the Giants in the '02 Draft, Shockey made four Pro Bowls in six seasons with New York. He's not the threat he once was, but he still caught 37 balls for 455 yards and four TD for Carolina last year.

Given his natural abilities, it would be a shame if Harbor doesn't pan out. Coming from small-time Missouri State though, it will not come as a huge shock either.

#KickerProblems

Things aren't looking so hot for Henry either, who will almost certainly find himself out of a job in the wake of another signing. An undrafted free agent out of Florida last year, where he won the Ray Guy Award for best punter in the nation, Henry had a mediocre rookie season in the NFL. He ranked 29th in average distance (42.9 yds), 33rd in net average (36.9), and 25th for kicks inside the 20 (19).

The Eagles just released a rookie punter prior to the start of camp (no, I'm not looking up his name), and they tried out veteran Brad Maynard back in June, also one of the four at Lehigh on Monday. Roob says it's likely McBriar though, who last made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but was bothered by a foot injury last season.

Obviously we generally don't think of the punter as a big deal, that is until he's terrible anyway. Maybe Henry can pick up with another team should he be released, but whatever improvements the Eagles can make, however minor they are, they have to consider them all.

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games — all losses — that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It's not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it's a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies' starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies' starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that."

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn't miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He's had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn't locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight baserunners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It's not fun. It's just something you deal with. It's not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco (see story). Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."