Eagles excited by potential of Kelly's offense

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Eagles excited by potential of Kelly's offense

Brandon Grahams reaction to his next head coach?

Two words.

Im hyped, Graham, the Eagles defensive end, screamed into the phone Wednesday, moments after the Eagles stunned the NFL world by announcing the hiring of former Oregon coach Chip Kelly as the replacement for Andy Reid.

Similar reactions from other Eagles trickled in while the news sunk in that Kelly, the offensive mastermind who built Oregon into a national powerhouse, would be the franchises 21st head coach.

Im excited No. 1, tight end Brent Celek told CSNs Derrick Gunn. I guess Im a little shocked, just because it was first reported that he was staying at Oregon, but hes our coach now and I cant wait to see how we do, how this offense runs. Im excited to get going.

And from the defense?

Hes a successful person, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins told the NFL Network. Hes had a lot of success and anytime you have somebody like that and his desire, hes going to do whatever it takes for us to be as successful here as well.

I dont know too much about him, but from what Ive seen and just highlights, Ive heard hes someone with a lot of emotion and someone who doesnt accept not being successful.

The Eagles just finished 4-12, their worst record ever under Reid, who was fired Dec. 31 after his 14th year and hired just four days later by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Kelly, whose record-setting spread offense helped the Ducks reach BCS Bowls in each of his four seasons as head coach, is considered one of the brightest, most innovative offensive minds in the game.

But there are questions about whether his up-tempo offense can succeed in the NFL, along with his expertise in fielding a championship-caliber defense and assembling an experienced staff.

For a franchise that hasnt won a Super Bowl after 51 years of existence, the hiring of Kelly -- who has never coached or played in the NFL -- is rightfully considered risky and bold.

I have no reason but to be optimistic, right tackle Todd Herremans said via text message. Thats who they initially wanted.

Kelly had met with Lurie, president Don Smolenski and general manager Howie Roseman for nine hours on Jan. 5 at a Four Seasons in Scottsdale, Ariz., one day after the Ducks bounced Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, 35-17.

Kelly had also interviewed with the Browns but announced on Jan. 6 his decision to return to Oregon for a fifth season. But his change of heart led to talks reopening with the Eagles, who quickly reached a deal with their top choice.

Yeah, I was definitely surprised, especially with all of the rumors that we had heard a week or so ago about Chip deciding to stay at Oregon and not come into the NFL, Jenkins said to the NFL Network. So it was a little bit of a shock today when I heard that.

One of Kellys first big decisions will be deciding on his next quarterback.

Its assumed that the mobile Michael Vick is better suited for the high-octane offense that Kelly ran at Oregon, but Vick will be 33 and is slated to make more than 15 million as he comes off his one of his worst seasons. He also hasnt played 16 games in a season since 2006 and sat for six weeks in 2012 after sustaining a concussion.

Nick Foles, the promising rookie who replaced Vick, lacks the speed and athleticism seen from quarterbacks who played under Kelly at Oregon but caught Kellys attention when his Arizona team battled Kellys Ducks in Pac-12 Conference games (see story).

Ill tell you what -- Im glad Nick Foles is graduating, Kelly told reporters after a 2011 game between Arizona and Oregon. I catch myself watching him in awe sometimes. ... Nick is a hell of a football player. That kids a warrior. Hes as good as anyone in the country.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick invited Kelly to his practices and then implemented some of Kellys offensive concepts into New Englands hurry-up offense, which led the NFL this past season with 1,191 plays from scrimmage, 31 more than second-ranked Detroit.

Celek is convinced Kellys offense will remake the Eagles into a fearsome offensive team and maximize the talent of Pro Bowl wideout DeSean Jackson and Pro Bowl halfback LeSean McCoy.

I think it will, just from the talent that weve got, Celek said. From what Ive seen just on TV ... its exciting to watch for sure. Theyre fast paced. Theyre up-tempo. And they score a lot of points, which is what we want to do.

Jenkins seemed slightly more apprehensive, although optimistic.

Everybody of course is going to have concerns about the coach and if hes going to be able to adjust to the next level -- the difference in speed, tempo and all of the things like that, he said. What type of schemes is he going to bring in and will they adjust? All of those are going to be concerns with people but his resume, regardless of what those questions are, is pretty impressive.

Its a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL, and sometimes if you can just win over your players, have confidence in them and get them to fight for you, a lot of times that makes all of the difference in the world.

E-mail Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com

Ron Hextall: Risky to move down in 1st round, but 'good move' for Flyers

Ron Hextall: Risky to move down in 1st round, but 'good move' for Flyers

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ron Hextall said he was fielding calls asking if he wanted to move up and even down during the first round of NHL draft Friday night at First Niagara Center.
 
“We had a lot of calls on flipping picks,” he said. “If we were going to move up we were going to have to take a big jump. We weren’t doing that.”
 
At one point, he was shown on television looking and talking angrily into the phone.
 
“Not true,” Hextall said. “Whether I look mad or not, I assure you I wasn’t.”

In the end, he swapped his No. 18 pick plus No. 79 with Winnipeg for No. 22 and No. 36, one of three second-round picks the Flyers have during Saturday's drafts for Rounds 2-7.
  
In doing so, the Flyers bypassed a chance at several goal-scoring forwards, among them, Kieffer Bellows, who went to the Islanders at No. 19.
 
The Flyers chose 17-year-old Russian centerman German Rubtsov (see story). He had 26 points (12 goals) for the Russian junior team this past season.
 
“We had a really good backup plan that we were comfortable with,” Hextall said of the drop down move that seems rather curious given the club’s need for a big, scoring forward.
 
“So whenever you do that, you say, ‘OK, best case scenario we get this guy.' If we don’t get this guy, these guys are close and we’re OK with it. Otherwise, you don’t move back.”
 
Not everything went as planned through the first round.
 
Hextall predicted if someone was picked out of order, it might create chaos and players would fall. That’s exactly what happened when Columbus chose Pierre-Luc Dubois at No. 3.
 
That set off a chain reaction, which is why Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun, considered to be a franchise defenseman, kept dropping and was there at No. 16 for Detroit.
 
The Red Wings ended up trading the pick to Arizona along with Pavel Datsyuk, who’s going to the KHL. The Coyotes plucked Chychrun.
 
“We felt like top three was locked in and we had our list,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall kept having stand-up discussions with his table and while the Detroit-Arizona trade was going down, he was talking with Nashville GM David Poile about his pick at No. 17 — a slot above the Flyers.
 
Poile kept his pick anyway and chose Penticton defenseman Dante Fabbro, leaving Bellows to fall right into the Flyers' hands at No. 18 if they wanted him.
 
Except Hextall moved down instead.
 
Bellows ended up going to the Islanders at No. 19, as the Flyers waited out to take Rubtsov.
 
“We wanted him,” Hextall said. “It’s always risky. In the end it was a good move.”
 
It could take a number of years to see whether Rubtsov was the better choice over Bellows.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies (31-44) at Giants (48-27)
10:05 p.m. on CSN

After losing for the 10th time in 11 games, the Phillies face a tough a test as they may face all year Saturday night: Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

One of baseball's premier pitchers, Bumgarner will take the hill against Jeremy Hellickson, with the Phils' looking to avoid another defeat.

Here are five things to know for tonight's matchup.

1. This is Mad-ness. No, this is Bumgarner!
Whether it is his lucious locks of hair, his 2014 World Series MVP award or his sterling ERA, Bumgarner seems to have everything going for him. 

Still just 26 years old, Bumgarner is in the midst of his best regular season ever. The lefty ace known as "Mad Bum" has the third best ERA in all of baseball (1.85) and has the fifth most strikeouts of any pitcher with 128 K's. 

Ever the workhorse, he's also sixth in baseball with 102 innings pitched in his 15 starts. He is easily on pace for his sixth straight year with at least 200 innings pitched and he has never had an ERA above 3.37. 

All of this is to say that the Phillies are going to have a lot of trouble scoring Saturday. 

Bumgarner's bat has even made news this year. He has two home runs this year (one off Clayton Kershaw) and has created headlines with his desire to join the home run derby in July. He has 13 career homers, including five last season.

To make matters worse for the Phils, Bumgarner has had their number. He is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in seven starts against the Phillies, striking out 51 batters in 48⅔ innings. He also had a .353 average in 19 plate appearances against the Phils, picking up six singles. 

2. What to make of Hellickson
Phillies fans now have a solid sample size with which to judge Hellickson. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason, the veteran righty was supposed to fill a role atop the Phillies' rotation, providing steady innings. Furthermore, many wondered whether he could be used as a trade chip to bring back a prospect come July.

As we near July, it's time to take stock in what Hellickson has actually provided the Phillies and what they can expect from him moving forward. 

A. Innings: He's been solid on this account. In his 15 starts this season, he's completed at least five innings in all but two games (one of which the Phillies won). In his last eight starts, he has thrown at least six innings seven times and has done so 10 times. 

B. Quality: It was tough to expect high quality innings from Hellickson a few years removed from arm injuries. He hadn't produced an ERA below 4.50 since 2012. So far in 2016, he's been about as expected, sporting a 4.41 ERA in 87⅔ innings. He has seven quality starts, a good but certainly not great mark.

C. Trade value: This is still tough to gauge. When he had a 3.68 ERA at the end of May, it seemed like he may get something back in a trade, but a few below average starts brought him back to his post-2012 levels. Still, his penchant for pitching deep into games paired with few high quality pitchers set to be free agents this offseason make him a useful chip for general manager Matt Klentak.

3. Wait, where is Hunter Pence?
There is only one former Phillies player on the Giants and it's a fan favorite: Hunter Pence. Pence patrolled the outfield in Philadelphia for 155 games during the 2011 and '12 seasons before he was traded to San Francisco mid-year. Pence hit 28 home runs in a Phillies uniform to go with 94 RBIs and a .289 batting average

But Pence won't be on the field this weekend for the Giants. He tore his hamstring in early June and underwent surgery, which was supposed to keep him out for 6-8 weeks. 

The Giants come to Citizens Bank Park to begin August, which would be right around the time Pence rejoins the roster. 

With Pence out, rookies Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker alongside veteran Gregor Blanco have been taking turns filling in the spacious right field at AT&T Park.  

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cop out here with two people. I'm going with the catching duo of Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz. Rupp has been solid in his first year as a starting catcher while Ruiz has success against Bumgarner in his career, collecting seven hits and a home run.

Giants: Underrated at shortstop, Brandon Crawford is well on his way to earning his contract extension with the Giants. Crawford made a lot of that money off of his defensive prowess, but he can handle the bat, currently with a career-high on-base percentage in his age 29 season.

5. This and that 
• Another Phillies hitter with a home run off Bumgarner is Andres Blanco, who is 1 for 4 off the lefty with just the dinger to show for it. 

• Unsurprisingly, Ryan Howard struggles against the lefty ace. He is 2 for 11 with a walk and six strikeouts. It'd be tough for Pete Mackanin to go with him at first, even with Tommy Joseph in the midst of a slump.

• Buster Posey is 0 for 7 with a walk against Hellickson. Crawford is 4 for 7 with a walk in eight plate appearances against the righty.

• Before this recent stretch, the Phillies hadn't had a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games since June 8-20, 2015. 

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Looking to make history at home

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Looking to make history at home

Union vs. Whitecaps
7 p.m. on CSN (Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.)

Fresh off a wild win over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, the Roland Alberg-led Union (7-4-5) look to continue their winning run at home against the Western Conference Vancouver Whitecaps (6-7-3) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Alberg’s explosion
For much of the 2016 season to date, Alberg appeared to be the odd man out in the Union’s lineup. While Alberg worked on his defensive posturing, Union manager Jim Curtin stuck the Dutch midfielder behind Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius on the offensive depth chart.

But since being let loose in the first game of the U.S. Open Cup, Alberg has proven he belongs.

“He’s great around the goal, that is for certain,” Curtin said. “He hits a heavy ball, great left foot, makes great decisions around the goal, can pass. It’s good to get him going in terms of defensive running, he has really worked hard on that, he’s worked his tail off.”

The work is paying off for the first-year Union attacker, as he scored twice against the Harrisburg City Islanders, notched a goal against New York City FC and then buried the Chicago Fire with a hat trick.

It was a lucrative week and a promising development for the Union heading into Saturday. 

“He give us a calmness on the ball, and we were very happy for him,” Curtin said. “He’s put in a lot. He did a great job getting the goals for us, he’s carrying us to be honest.”

2. Sloppy defense
Though the Union found an offensive answer in Alberg, they haven’t found one recently on defense. The once defensively-stout Union have relaxed a bit, allowing three goals in two consecutive games.

“Three goals given up is not something that we want each game,” Union fullback Keegan Rosenberry said. “Jim talks about it game in, game out, the one goal per game average. We can do better. We can do better in possession, we can do better in limiting counterattacks.”

But if the Union have a surprise characteristic this season, it’s the ability to fight through defensive adversity and fight back in games. Despite going down 3-0 against NYCFC, the Union nearly fought back to tie the game, eventually losing, 3-2. Against the Fire, they gave up the opening goal to David Accam just two minutes into the game before scoring four unanswered. 

“No one hangs their head here,” Pontius said. “We all get back to work. That’s been the mentality of the group. Even 3-0 down at NYC. No one gave in. We kept working at it and ended up tying that game. The resilience of this group is good.”

3. Skillful but inconsistent
Consistency, or lack thereof, has been the theme of the season for the Whitecaps. After ripping off three straight wins in early May, Carl Robinson’s club went 0-2-1, or 1-4-1, if you count the Amway Canadian Championship (Canada’s Open Cup).

But despite their record, the Union are wary of the Whitecaps’ skill.

“They find ways to get points,” Curtin said. “They’re a team that has individual guys who can beat you off the dribble. They have crafty, clever, dynamic individuals. But they’ve conceded some goals this year, so we’ll be looking to attack on our home field.”

Making matters worse, the Whitecaps, who are sitting sixth in the Western Conference, haven't defended well of late, giving up 15 goals in their last seven MLS games.

“You always try to get better,” Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson said. “I think we just expected to be great defensively, but I think it’ll come. As the team starts playing better and gets rhythm in the attack, it’ll help our defense as well.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Although Fabian Herbers has done a commendable job filling in for injured C.J. Sapong, the Union could use their physical leading scorer back. Lucky for them, that could happen this Saturday in a minor role, according to Curtin. “C.J. has been working out on the field, he’s able to cut and he’s running hard,” the coach said. "We’re optimistic that he’ll play a role [on Saturday].”

Whitecaps: On a team full of skillful talent, Pedro Morales, a midfielder, leads the Whitecaps in goals with six and assists with three. “The key is Pedro Morales," Curtin said. “He draws a lot of penalty kicks, so you have to be smart with one-on-one defending in the box.”

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-2-2 against the Whitecaps all-time and 1-0-2 against them at Talen Energy Stadium. 

• With a 6-0-2 record at home this season, the Union are riding a 10-game unbeaten streak at Talen Energy Stadium, tying a franchise record. “That’s a credit to our fans, our players, we’ve made it a tough place to play,” Curtin said. “We’ve been good at home and want to keep that going.”

• The Union are looking for a set back line. But that hasn’t been an easy task with Ken Tribbett and Josh Yaro competing admirably for the spot. “We have four good center backs,” said Curtin, who wouldn’t reveal who will play next to Richie Marquez on Saturday. “Ken brings a different skill set, he has the aerial presence and size. Josh brings a little more speed.”