Chip Kelly has high praise for Nick Foles at Combine

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Chip Kelly has high praise for Nick Foles at Combine

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the door seemed to be slammed on Nick Foles when Michael Vick restructured his contract, it swung wide open Thursday after coach Chip Kelly insisted the competition at the team’s most important spot is far from decided.

In the first Scouting Combine podium interview of his NFL coaching career, Kelly not only reaffirmed that his impending quarterback jostle wouldn’t feature an early front-runner but also that Foles would be sticking around for the fight.

“I want to coach Nick and I want to get the chance to spend some time with him and see him,” Kelly said. “I’ve said it before. I was a big fan of his [at Arizona] -- the way he plays the game, his toughness, his ability to throw the ball very accurate. I want to hopefully get a chance to get him out on the practice field and see what he does.”

Foles, drafted last year in the third round, started six games after taking over for a concussed Michael Vick and won just one of of his six starts. But he also completed 61 percent of his passes and averaged 240 passing yards per game, which had never been done before by an NFL rookie quarterback.

But when Vick preserved his roster spot Feb. 11 by agreeing to a hefty pay cut, the general assumption was that Kelly preferred Vick’s athleticism and mobility for the offense he intends to run.

At the least, it seemed to indicate Kelly’s willingness to wipe Vick’s slate clean after two nightmarish seasons.

A report from USA Today then surfaced that former Eagles coach Andy Reid, who drafted Foles last year in the third round, would be interested in reuniting with his former quarterback in Kansas City.

That same day, CSNPhilly.com’s Reuben Frank reported that the Eagles weren’t shopping Foles and had no intention of trading him unless they were offered a deal too sweet to pass up.

"He's not available,” said Reid, who spoke at the Combine podium for the first time in his 15 seasons as an NFL head coach. “You just had Howie up here, so I think you know that. Listen, Nick is the property of the Philadelphia Eagles, so I think they like him. I drafted him along with Howie. Howie's still there, and I know Howie likes him."

Kelly, who said he was unaware of the USA Today report, didn’t rule out any transaction that would upgrade his roster but added this of Foles: “I want to coach him.”

Kelly and the rest of the staff are here this week to scout more than 300 college prospects and interview select prospects that they’re potentially targeting. The Eagles have the No. 4 overall pick in April’s draft but the quarterback crop is weaker than past years and there aren’t indications that Kelly and Roseman would use a first- or second-round pick to upgrade the position.

Roseman backed up Kelly’s endorsement of Foles and the concept of an equal competition.

“[Kelly] told you the same thing he's told us. He wants to coach him, not just see him,” Roseman said. “This is a young, talented player who didn't even have a chance to play with all our frontline guys on the offensive line or skill-position players. He's a talented guy. We just drafted him last year.

“I think this is a different situation than we've had the past couple years where we had quarterbacks. We like the player, we like a lot of things about the player, he's a young player in the league and we're trying to accumulate good players. We're not in the business of trying to get rid of our good young players."

Kelly has watched every cut-up of Foles’ rookie season and observed some of the same strengths that he remembered from their Pacific 12 Conference clashes, when Foles led the Arizona offense against the Kelly-coached Oregon Ducks.

Foles never beat Oregon but passed for 398 yards, threw three touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his throws -- including a third-down conversion on a left-handed flip -- in his senior season.

“Nick’s tough, Nick’s very accurate. Really, [he] can get the ball to different places,” Kelly said. “I know we tried to present him with some different looks when I was at Oregon and trying to defend him and he always seemed to have an answer. He did a great job of putting the ball where I think it was supposed to be.

“When you watch the film, if we were going to be light somewhere in coverage, he seemed to find the spot where we were light in coverage. Just a guy that I’ve been impressed with. We -- and he’ll tell ya -- we hit the heck out of him, and he just kept coming.”

Once again, Kelly faced questions about whether Foles’ minimal foot speed and mobility would clash with the identity of the offense he intends to implement compared to the athletically superior Vick.

Once again, Kelly shot down theories that his Eagles offense would completely mirror the schemes he designed at Oregon or that he would force feed his playbook to a quarterback whose best assets weren’t suited for the blueprint.

“I’ve said that 1,000 times,” Kelly said. “When I was at the University of New Hampshire we threw it on every down because that kid (Ricky Santos) was really good. He threw 123 touchdowns and like 22 interceptions in a four-year span and he probably ran a 5.0 in the 40. So we catered to his strengths and I threw the ball more there than I did at Oregon.

“When I got to Oregon, when I got there I was fortunate that I had Dennis Dixon on our roster. That’s what I think any coach does. You go figure out what your personnel can do and you play to your strengths.”

Rules of the CBA have prevented Kelly from working on the practice field with any of his quarterbacks or sitting down with them in a film room to pore through tape or discuss future schemes.

The trick will be designing his offense around the quarterback who emerges as the best option, which sounds like the cart goes before the horse given the total contrast of skill sets among Foles, Vick, Dixon and Trent Edwards.

Only after he sees them compete on the field this spring will Kelly start to whittle down the playbook and begin to settle on one quarterback to lead his offense, which adds some extra flavor to this year’s minicamps and OTAs.

At training camp, there won’t be enough reps for all four to share the ball equally.

“But in April there is,” he said. “In May and June there is. And when you get through the preseason camp, it’s like anything else. As you start to get close to the season you cut those down and you start to make a decision on who your guys are going to be. But I think in April you’re silly not to look at everybody.”

Phillie Phodder: Velasquez pitches Monday, catching dilemma, Herrera to RF?

Phillie Phodder: Velasquez pitches Monday, catching dilemma, Herrera to RF?

SAN FRANCISCO — Several pieces of news emerged before the Phillies played the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night. Let’s get to them:

Velasquez to start Monday
Manager Pete Mackanin announced that Vince Velasquez would return to the starting rotation Monday in Arizona. The team will not add the right-hander to the active roster and make a corresponding roster move until then. Sending Adam Morgan to the minors remains a strong possibility. Morgan has a 6.55 ERA in 11 starts. Velasquez, who has recovered from a mild right biceps strain, is sliding into Morgan’s spot in the rotation. Morgan could be available in the bullpen Sunday.

Ruiz to catch Nola
Cameron Rupp has been behind the plate for every inning that Aaron Nola has thrown in the major leagues.

That will change Sunday when Carlos Ruiz is the catcher for Nola’s 29th big-league start.

“Maybe he’ll snap him out of his little funk,” Mackanin said.

Nola, who turned 23 earlier this month, has hit the first rough patch of his big-league career. He is 0-3 with a 15.83 ERA in his last three starts. He has been knocked out early in all three games, pitching just a total of 9 2/3 innings. In that span, he has allowed 22 hits and 17 earned runs. He has walked seven.

These are very uncharacteristic numbers for Nola, who arrived in the majors 11 months ago and had a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 starts.

Mackanin is hoping the 37-year-old Ruiz can impact Nola the way he’s impacted Jerad Eickhoff in recent starts.

Rupp was behind the plate for 10 of Eickhoff’s first 11 starts this season and the right-hander had a 3.88 ERA in those games.

Ruiz has caught Eickhoff’s last four starts. The pitcher has an ERA of 1.82 in those starts. Overall in five starts with Ruiz behind the plate this season, Eickhoff has a 2.35 ERA. And last year, Ruiz caught two of Eickhoff’s starts that resulted in 14 scoreless innings.

“I think Chooch probably is willing to call more breaking pitches than Rupp for whatever reason,” Mackanin said after Eickhoff’s last start Thursday.

Before Saturday’s game, Mackanin was asked if he believed Ruiz was a better game-caller than Rupp.

“Let’s put it this way, with the years of experience he’s had I’d like to think, yeah, I would say that,” he said. “Rupp’s in a learning process. I’m not going to say he calls a better game than Chooch because Chooch has had a lot of success with a lot of different types of pitchers.”

Mackanin doesn’t want to get into a situation where he has a catching controversy, but …

“That’s the hard part of about this job,” he said. “You have to give up something to get something. Cam offers more offense. However is it more important to guide the young pitcher and bring him along with some veteran experience? Winning games is important, too, for the health of the players, the coaches and the manager, too. We’ve won five games this month.

“It’s a dilemma. Do I play the guys that offer more offense and suffer defensively or …”

Rupp, 27, has had a strong season at the plate. His .773 OPS ranks fifth among big-league catchers. Ruiz has a .644 OPS.

But Mackanin said catching was a defensive position – handling pitchers, blocking balls, throwing out runners and calling a game. He hinted at some frustration with the latter area.

“They have meetings, they have charts (about how to pitch hitters),” Mackanin said. “Sometimes it surprises you. You go over it in a meeting and there’s input back and forth and you get in a game and it’s, “What are you doing? Pitch according to the book we have here.’ Sometimes guys don’t do that.”

Focus on fundementals
The Phillies have made errors, failed to back up bases and had runners picked off bases in recent games. So it was no wonder that they have been on the field more than four hours before game time the last two days working on the small things — everything from holding runners to backing up bases to getting jumps on the bases.

“A reminder that defense is important,” Mackanin said. “We’ve been sloppy in a lot of areas. We’ve failed to back up third two or three times.”

Center fielder Odubel Herrera, who was not in the lineup Saturday night, has been particularly sloppy. He made just five errors in 136 games in center last season. He has seven in 73 games this season. On this trip, he has made two sloppy plays that weren’t ruled errors. Mackanin mentioned both after games.

Interestingly, Herrera took balls in right field off the bat of outfield instructor Juan Samuel before Saturday night’s game. Peter Bourjos, who started in center, could end up getting more time there if Herrera doesn’t improve. Aaron Altherr can also play there. He is expected to return from the disabled list sometime in the second half. Prospect Roman Quinn projects as a difference-making center fielder, but he has had trouble putting together a healthy season and is currently on the DL at Double A Reading.

Union's home win streak snapped, fall to Whitecaps, 3-2

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Union's home win streak snapped, fall to Whitecaps, 3-2

CHESTER, Pa. — Roland Alberg continued his scoring run (see story), but it couldn’t cover up for defensive mistakes, as the frustrated Union fell to the Vancouver Whitecaps, 3-2, on Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

The loss, their second in three games, snaps a 10-game home unbeaten streak for the Union and sinks their record to 7-5-5 on the season and 6-1-2 at home. The Whitecaps move to 7-7-3.

Thing were looking up for the Union early. The hosts opened scoring in the 14th minute with an eye-opening display of skill from Tranquillo Barnetta, Ilsinho, Fabian Herbers and Alberg.

Barnetta began the play upfield off a turnover from Pedro Morales. And after ticky-tac passing at the top of the Whitecaps box, a one-touch delivery eventually found the feet of Herbers on the right side, giving the rookie space to fire off a right-footed volley that decked the upper left corner post.

That’s where Alberg pounced. The red-hot midfielder settled it off a Sebastien Le Toux deflection and easily placed it home for his fifth goal of the season — all of which came in the Union’s last three games.

But the Whitecaps would counter just five-minutes later on one of many Union mistakes. A corner cross into the box slipped through the hands of Andre Blake and onto the head of Andrew Jacobson and in.

The Whitecaps made it 2-1 in the 42nd by catching the Union overcommitted as a result of a Barnetta turnover in the midfield. On the counter, Kekuta Manneh torched Union defender Josh Yaro, cut to the middle and fired off a low shot that cleanly beat Blake. In the 84th minute, Christian Bolanos added the insurance when his shot was deflected in by Keegan Rosenberry.

It was the eighth goal the Union allowed in their last three games.

The Union fought back in stoppage time, when a corner was headed by Walter Restrepo back into the crease where Chris Pontius was waiting to make the finish. However, the match ended seconds after, 3-2.

Cousin of Sixers' Ben Simmons killed in hit-and-run accident Saturday

Cousin of Sixers' Ben Simmons killed in hit-and-run accident Saturday

The cousin of Sixers No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons was killed in a hit-and-run accident early Saturday morning.

Zachary Simmons, 21, was struck by a black SUV around 3:30 a.m., CBS New York is reported. Ben Simmons confirmed the death of his cousin on Twitter.

Zachary Simmons' mother, Monique Steel, said she was told by police that the driver was going at least 70 miles an hour. She also told CBS2 in New York that her son was out Friday for a friend's birthday and was celebrating the night before with his first cousin, Ben, following the NBA draft.

Investigators are analyzing pieces of the SUV and checking surveillance video in attempt to find the driver.

Ben Simmons, a native of Australia, has roots in New York where his father Dave was born.