Didinger's Mailbag: Kafka, kickoffs, bad drafts


Didinger's Mailbag: Kafka, kickoffs, bad drafts

Answering your questions and commenting on your comments, here is todays dip into the mailbag.

Q. Ive been high on Mike Kafka since his come-from-behind days at Northwestern. Im not saying hes the next Joe Montana, but there are a number of things to like about him: his pocket presence, field vision and poise, as well as his ability to sense and escape pressure Id love to get your impressions on him.

-- John Murray

A. I liked Kafka coming out of college, too. He carried Northwestern in his senior year and played very well in the East-West Shrine Game (Offensive MVP). There is a lot to like about him, including his mobility and his short-to-intermediate passing accuracy. I just question his arm strength. The interception he threw on Thursday is an example. The ball hung in the air and resulted in an easy pick for the Ravens. There are certain throws a quarterback has to be able to make to be a success in the NFL and Im not sure Kafka has enough arm to make those throws.

Q. I think the NFL got it wrong moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line. Its going to be extremely boring watching all these touchbacks, not to mention taking away an exciting component of the game. Just think about Brian Mitchell. Would anyone really remember him if it wasnt for his kickoff returns? Do you think the NFL will switch back to the 30 before the regular season starts?

-- Tom FlahertyPrinceton, N.J.

A. I agree with you about the new rule. It will certainly decrease the number of kickoff returns six of the seven kickoffs in Thursdays Eagles game went for touchbacks and it will eliminate one of the most exciting plays in the game. I support the leagues efforts to promote player safety, but eliminating kickoffs which is basically what this rule does seems excessive. There is already a negative reaction to the rule, but I dont foresee the league changing it before the regular season. They want to give it a fair chance.

Q. Could you offer some perspective on the Eagles running backs? Im concerned. If (LeSean) McCoy breaks an ankle in Week 4, what happens then? Did you see enough of Dion Lewis to feel comfortable handing him the ball 20 times a game? No way we can trust Ronnie Browns health for 16 weeks. Im excited to see what we have with Derrick Locke.

-- Barry Springer

A. The Eagles have a pretty crowded backfield at the moment six running backs, two fullbacks. They dont have anyone who could adequately replace McCoy if he were lost for the season. That would be an enormous blow. Brown would take over as the starter and you would just hope he could keep it together for the full season. I think Lewis will stick as the change-of-pace back. I dont see Locke making the team. At 5-9, 190 pounds, he and Lewis are pretty much the same player, except Lewis is better.

Q. What are your thoughts on the contract situation of DeSean Jackson? As a fan, I love the guy. He brings intangibles the coaches cannot teach. However, are the Eagles willing to make a long-term commitment? Overall, his numbers are average. He hasnt caught more than 62 balls in a season. His playoff numbers are horrible. He may be better off testing the open market. The Eagles may be better off using the money for a bigger body wide receiver.

-- Tom CetroneLinwood, N.J.

A. I think the Eagles will settle on a long-term deal with Jackson because they need him. You say his numbers are average and if youre looking at total receptions, you would be right. But Jackson is a big-play receiver. The number that matters with him is yards per catch and he led the league in that category last season (22.5). There are plenty of bigger body receivers around, but you cant find another receiver to match his explosive speed. Jackson is the top deep threat in the game. He should be paid accordingly.

Q. As a former Hall of Fame voter, Id like to gauge your opinion on this years class. Personally, I dont think Deion Sanders belongs. While acknowledging he was a pretty good corner and returner, I dont think a defensive player who was so blatantly afraid of contact belongs in the Hall.

It seems to me the Pro Football Hall of Fame classes are very large each year as compared to baseball. Do you have an opinion on this? Are too many people getting in? I look at Halls of Fame as only the very best of the best.

-- Jim Shields

A. I wasnt Deions biggest fan. A lot of his antics turned me off. But if I still had a Hall of Fame vote, I would have voted for him without a moments hesitation. He was the best cover corner I ever saw. The term shutdown corner was created for him because he did exactly that. He was assigned to cover the other teams best receiver and it didnt matter who it was, Sanders shut him down. He didnt like to tackle, thats true, but he was so good in so many other areas, including kick returns, he was a deserving first-ballot inductee.

Regarding the number of enshrinees, there were seven in this years class. There were seven in last years class, too, which marked the most enshrinees over a two-year period in 43 years. I dont have a problem with it. Look at how many great players are still waiting to be called (Cris Carter, Tim Brown, Jerry Kramer, Roger Craig). It is still a very elite fraternity.

Q. I was at Eagles training camp last week and I was very impressed with Curtis Marsh, the rookie cornerback. Maybe I just caught him on a good day, but he was all over the field knocking balls down and breaking up plays. What have you seen so far?

-- Doug E.Cherry Hill, N.J.

A. Marsh is better than I thought he would be. I expected to see a raw talent with good size (6-0, 195) and speed (4.4 in the 40), but not much in the way of awareness. He did not play defense until last season at Utah State (he was a running back prior to that) so I thought he would be way behind the curve mentally. But Marsh has picked things up in a hurry. I thought he would be a project, a guy the coaches would keep around and work with for a year or two, but he could push for some playing time this season.

Q. Can you remember a worse draft than the 2007 draft? We give our No. 1 pick to Dallas. Kevin Kolb plays seven games. Victor Abiamiris career is over. Stewart Bradley is no longer here. Tony Hunt need I say more? C.J. Gaddis? I guess we got (Brent) Celek, but basically we ended up with a tight end and a cornerback (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) four years later. Can you think of a worse draft?

-- Mullarkey Conor

A. We dont know that Abiamiris career is over, but I get your point. Celek was a nice pick in the fifth round and the Eagles did turn Kolb into a Pro Bowl corner in DRC so you have to factor that into the equation. It wasnt a great draft, but at least the Eagles got something. Id argue the 2003 draft was worse.

2003 (in order) defensive end Jerome McDougle; tight end L.J. Smith; wide receiver Billy McMullen; defensive end Jamaal Green; guard Jeremy Bridges; safety Norman Lejeune.

The 2004 draft wasnt so great either guard Shawn Andrews; safeties Matt Ware and J.R. Reed; guard Trey Darilek and Adrien Clark; fullback Thomas Tapeh; quarterback Andy Hall; cornerback Dexter Wynn; running back Bruce Perry; center Dominic Furio.

Id say the 1992 draft was worse: The first pick was traded as the final payment for moving up to select Antone Davis, who was a bust. Starting in round two, the Eagles selected running back Siran Stacy; defensive tackle Tommy Jeter; running back Tony Brooks; quarterback Casey Weldon; cornerback Corey Barlow; receiver Jeff Sydner; guard William Boatwright; linebackers Chuck Bullough and Ephesians Bartley; cornerback Mark McMillian; punter Pumpy Tudors and tackle Brandon Houston.

When a 5-6 cornerback (McMillian) is the prize of your draft, thats a bad draft.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net.

Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track


Phillies-Cubs 5 things: Getting Vince Velasquez back on track

Phillies (26-23) at Cubs (33-14)
2:20 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies have lost back-to-back games to the MLB-best Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and on Sunday afternoon, they'll look to salvage a victory in the series finale.

Here are five things to get you ready for the ballgame:

1. Avoiding a sweep
Phillies fans had losing shoved down their throats for long stretches last season. This season has been much different … at least until the last three series.

With Saturday's loss, the Phils have lost three consecutive series for the first time in 2016 and will look to avoid their first sweep since their opening series in Cincinnati. The 4-1 victory by the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth loss in five games. They haven't lost five of six since September 2015. 

Meanwhile, the Cubs have won four straight games after losing eight of 12 games in mid-May. A win Sunday would give Chicago its fourth win streak of at least four games already in 2016. 

If that doesn't underline how tough a task the Phillies have ahead of them, Sunday's starter will do the trick.

2. Solving Lackey
John Lackey doesn't have the pizzazz of a Jake Arrieta or Jon Lester, but the veteran righty has been a consistent force in the Cubs' rotation. Coming over from the rival Cardinals in free agency, Lackey has a 4-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in nine starts in 2016.

However, the underlying numbers have been even better. He's completed six innings in all but one start and has seven quality starts. He has 61 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks and 45 hits in 61⅓ innings. 

Lackey has been a workhorse for the Cubs and has struck out at least five batters in each of his last four starts. 

The good news for Phillies fans? Despite Lackey's solid numbers, the Cubs have lost four of his nine starts.

3. Getting back on track
At 23 years old, it's tough to expect Vince Velasquez to be an ace all season, even if he may fill that role at some point in the not-so-distant future. 

So Velasquez's relatively minor struggles over his last few starts shouldn't worry fans as a sign of things to come. In Detroit, the flamethrowing righty could only complete four innings while giving up three home runs. While he struck out 10 and gave up no runs the start before against Miami, he failed to get past the fifth inning.

Those two starts came after consecutive outings where Velasquez gave up four runs in six innings. His last quality start came May 1, although it's tough to call his game against the Marlins anything but impressive.

While he's faced some strong lineups like the Mets and Nationals, the Cubs are a force Velasquez hasn't dealt with quite yet. He has no career numbers against the Cubs' probable starters, a group that has combined to be one of baseball's top offenses in 2016.

4. Who's on first?
Ryan Howard's final season in Philadelphia has been a grind to say the least. The veteran first baseman has just six hits in 58 at-bats in May and has just a .154 batting average this year. Howard's eight home runs have been a bright spot, but he doesn't have a homer since May 11.

Howard has three hits (two home runs) in 16 career at-bats against Lackey. But with right-handed first baseman Tommy Joseph excelling in his first big-league action, manager Pete Mackanin may turn to the rookie Sunday, as Howard tries to end his slump.

5. This and that
• Obubel Herrera is 3 for 4 in his only career appearances against Lackey. Maikel Franco is 2 for 3 against the righty.

• The Phillies are 3-0 in the final game of road trips this year … and 3-0 in the final game of homestands, too. 

• The Cubs have not swept the Phillies in Chicago since 1995.

Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids


Brian Carroll's goal in 92nd minute gives Union draw with Rapids

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- Brian Carroll tied it in 92nd minute and the Union escaped with a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids in a showdown of the Western and Eastern conference leaders.

Carroll ran underneath Fabian Herbers' high-arching header and slotted the finish under goalkeeper Zac MacMath from close range.

The Union (5-3-5) responded only 5 minutes after the Rapids (8-2-4) opened the scoring on Sam Cronin's header in the 87th minute. Cronin made a deep run to connect with Marlon Hairston's cross from the right flank, redirecting it into the far corner of the goal.

Both Dillon Powers and Luis Solignac had shots crash off the crossbar for the Rapids after the 70th minute.

The Union extended their unbeaten streak to seven while the Rapids stayed unbeaten in their nine home games this season.

Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field


Chase Utley haunts Mets in Dodgers' rout at Citi Field

NEW YORK -- Chase Utley hit a grand slam and a solo homer after Noah Syndergaard threw a 99 mph fastball behind his back, and the Los Angeles Dodgers went deep a season-high five times in routing the New York Mets 9-1 on Saturday night.

In a scene that seemed inevitable since October, Syndergaard was immediately ejected following the third-inning pitch -- almost certainly his shot at retaliation against Utley for the late takeout slide that broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in last year's playoffs.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari tossed Syndergaard, sending Mets manager Terry Collins into a rage, but no trouble ensued between the teams. A longtime New York nemesis, Utley raised one hand slightly in the direction of the Dodgers' bench to keep teammates calm -- and later answered by doing all sorts of damage with his bat.

Kenta Maeda (4-3) shook off an early line drive that appeared to hit him in the pitching hand and threw five shutout innings for the win. The right-hander yielded two hits, both in the first, and snapped his three-game losing streak.

Adrian Gonzalez homered and had four hits for the Dodgers, who spoiled the Mets' 30th anniversary celebration of their 1986 World Series championship. Corey Seager and Howie Kendrick also connected, all after Syndergaard was gone.

Pinch-hitter Juan Lagares homered in the eighth for New York, long after the outcome was decided.

The stoic Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since Tejada was injured. The Mets -- and their fans -- were incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules this season designed to protect infielders in what some call the Utley Rule.

But the Mets had not tried to retaliate until Saturday night.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard's first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman's back by a considerable margin.

Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected after screaming at Hamari and pointing in his face during an animated argument. The manager was finally escorted back toward the New York dugout by another umpire.

After waiting near the mound with teammates for some time, Syndergaard walked calmly to the Mets' dugout without showing any emotion as the crowd cheered him.

Logan Verrett (3-2) entered for the Mets and, with a vocal contingent in the sellout crowd of 42,227 urging him to hit Utley with a pitch, eventually threw a called third strike past him. But then Utley homered on Verrett's first pitch of the sixth to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.

Booed all night, Utley added his sixth career slam off Hansel Robles in the seventh, giving Los Angeles a 6-0 cushion with his 38th career homer against the Mets.

In the series opener Friday night, Utley was greeted with loud jeers and derisive chants. He had four RBIs in a 6-5 loss, including a three-run double that tied the score with two outs in the ninth.

Where are you now?
Tejada was released by the Mets during spring training and signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who designated him for assignment Saturday.

Trainer's room
Dodgers: RF Trayce Thompson exited in the fifth with lower back soreness. He was replaced by Yasiel Puig, who hit an RBI single off Verrett in the sixth.

Mets: INF Wilmer Flores (hamstring) went 1 for 2 with a sacrifice fly in his fifth rehab game for Double-A Binghamton. Before the game, Collins said it was reasonable to think Flores could come off the disabled list Sunday.

Up next
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (7-1, 1.48 ERA) starts the series finale Sunday night against 43-year-old Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.44). Kershaw, coming off a two-hit shutout against Cincinnati, is 7-0 with a 1.17 ERA in 10 starts against the Mets. He is 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA in May -- including a three-hit shutout of New York on May 12 at Dodger Stadium. The three-time Cy Young Award winner has struck out 55 and walked two this month.