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.”

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

This is how much of a kinship Brian Dawkins has with the game of football.

And it won’t surprise anybody.

“I was in Orlando with my family and we’re passing by a football field, me and my brother in law, to go to the gym,” Dawkins said. “There’s nobody in the stadium. But as I passed by, there’s a certain comfort I have when I see football fields.”

That connection, that bond, to the game he loves and the team he loves has ultimately brought Dawkins back to Philadelphia, where from 1996 through 2008 he firmly established himself as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time.

The Eagles announced Saturday morning that eight years after he was allowed to leave for Denver as a free agent, Dawkins has rejoined the franchise to work in the scouting department (see story).

Dawkins’ initially joins the Eagles' scouting team as part of the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a new program aimed at introducing former players to the world of player personnel and the duties of an NFL scout.

As of now, Dawkins is committed to working with the Eagles through the draft in April.

But both Dawkins and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said this relationship could evolve into a permanent one. And a very important one.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, I really am,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just so happened we were able to talk about it and get something done with it.”

Dawkins retired after the 2011 season, his third year in Denver. He worked for ESPN from the fall of 2012 through this past football season. He said ESPN did not renew his contract after last year, which opened up the door for him to explore a return to the NFL.

“I enjoyed my time there, I really did,” he said. “But it was one of those things where everything fell into place for me to have more freedom to do other things, and this was that opportunity and it presented itself and I jumped on it and we’re rolling with a fluid situation.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking for a while. I didn’t know it would come to fruition this fast, but here it is. And sometimes, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to really see what you can achieve. And so this is something that I’m really looking forward to, to see if this will move to something even bigger.”

Dawkins is with the Eagles at training camp this week, but he will be based for the time being in Denver, where he’s lived since signing with the Broncos and where his daughter is still in high school.

Roseman, very interestingly, revealed on Saturday morning that he has used Dawkins as an informal player personnel consultant, both when he was general manager through 2014 and again since being re-instated in a similar role with a new title by owner Jeff Lurie after Chip Kelly’s firing.

“I’ve (been) always trying to get him here because he’s got such a bright future, he’s got such a great football mind and a great presence and leadership ability, which translates to the front office,” Roseman said Saturday.

“I always think about (Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and how he made that transition, and then talking to (Dawkins) during the coaching search, as we were going into the offseason about the team.

“And then he did more evaluations this year for the draft and (we) continued to try to find the right role for him that he felt comfortable with and when this came along it was a perfect transition for him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him in the building and helping us as we move forward here.”

Dawkins was a first-team all-pro four times and a Pro Bowler seven times with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowls with the Broncos.

It's interesting that the Eagles’ safeties the last time they won a playoff game – 2008 – are now back with the team.

Quintin Mikell, who spent the 2003 through 2010 seasons with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, was a coaching intern last year and currently serves as director of player engagement.

Dawkins said evaluating players comes naturally to him.

“I love it,” he said. “When you get up there in age playing the game, you see young guys come in and you’re hoping they can help the team win that year, so you start to evaluate, even back then.

“So now that I’m out of the game I just take those things that I learned then and apply them now. Evaluating guys and seeing if they can help this team going forward.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in this role, Dawkins looked up at the NovaCare Complex 50 feet away and spoke in that hyper-intense Dawk whisper we all know so well.

“To bring this place back to someplace when we played, when I played here,” he said. “The energy was completely different. There were expectations every year with what we were going to do, and I’m pretty sure the players would tell you the exact same thing. They want to get this thing back there as well.

“This is a place I feel comfortable. Not just this organization, but the football field, watching tape, having those conversations, I feel comfortable doing those things.”

But Dawkins said he ultimately doesn’t want to limit himself to scouting.

“I’m trying to grasp the whole gamut of football operations, how a team is run,” he said. “So I’m learning about the scouting part of it, but sometimes it’s either you have an eye or you don’t, and I’ve been blessed to have an eye to be able to see talent, so if I can help in that respect I’d love to that, but I also want to learn everything I can about running a football team.”

Roseman and Dawkins both hinted at a major role for Dawkins in the organization moving forward.

Could he one day be the general manager? A team vice president?

Don’t bet against it.

“He’s going to start with scouting and work with Joe (Douglas, vice president of player personnel) and his guys because he’s done that and he’s written evaluations for us,” Roseman said.

“But we don’t want to limit him to that. His ability to communicate to the players … everything that we’re doing that’s different than when he was a player from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a sports science standpoint, his observations on the team as a whole.

“We’re really going to drop him into a bunch of areas that he’s interested in, but it starts with the scouting department.”

Beyond his individual accomplishments, Dawk played for the Eagles during the most successful period in modern franchise history.

The Eagles have won 19 playoff games, and Dawkins was on the field for 10 of them.

More than half.

“He’s been part of championship-caliber teams, so he understands about what that looks like and the energy and enthusiasm that that has, and he’s been in a defense simiar to this, so he knows the responsibilities,” Roseman said.

“He’s also looking at it from a guy who played the position. When he’s watching DBs … when you sit with him and watch him watch safety play, he’s looking for different things than maybe we are maybe as a scouting staff or guys who maybe never played the position.

“He’s able to come into the meetings and impart what he saw, and that helps all of us as we’re evlauating guys and that’s the biggest part of it for all of us. To be able to pick his brain.”

Where will this ultimately lead? Dawkins just smiles and says he has big plans. Bigger than just working in scouring.

“Bigger is bigger,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Bigger is bigger. I don’t know what bigger is. I just know bigger is not where I’m standing right now.

“So whatever bigger is, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

After scoring just once on Friday night, the Phillies are sticking with nearly the same lineup on Saturday.

Ryan Howard moves into the cleanup spot, replacing Tommy Joseph at first base. Other than Howard, the lineup stays the same with Cesar Hernandez leading off.

Howard pinch hit in the ninth inning on Friday and hit a double, giving him a little momentum into Saturday. He last started on May 26 vs. the Marlins. He's looked more like his normal self in July, batting .257 with a .543 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats for the month. The veteran has raised his average from a paltry .151 to start the month to a slightly less worse .167. 

He has three home runs in July and two career home runs off Julio Teheran, the Braves' starter steeped in trade rumors (see Game Notes)

Aaron Altherr makes his third start in as many days since coming off the disabled list. He went 0 for 4 on Friday after a three-hit season debut on Thursday. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco take their same spots in the lineup, batting second and third, respectively. 

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P