Eagles name rookie Kelce starting center

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Eagles name rookie Kelce starting center

The transformation is complete.

With offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinwegs announcement Monday morning that the Eagles will proceed with rookie Jason Kelce as the starting center, the Eagles have finished rebuilding an offensive line that has only one player left from last years line.

Mornhinweg confirmed what has been suspected for several weeks now. Jamaal Jackson, whos been the Eagles starting center every game when healthy since the middle of the 2005 season, is out. And Kelce, a rookie sixth-round pick from Cincinnati, is in.

Kelce has been working with the first group since a week ago Saturday, but until Monday, head coach Andy Reid and Mornhinweg had painted the center position as an open competition.

Its no longer open.

Just have to stay professional, keep doing what Im asked to do, work hard and hopefully Ill get back in there, Jackson said before practice Monday. Im a team player first, so Ill do whats best for the team. Still got to come to work every day and still have to compete, so thats what Im going to try to do.

Only left tackle Jason Peters is back from last years offensive line, which included Todd Herremans at left guard, Jackson and Mike McGlynn at center, Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles at right guard and Winston Justice at right tackle.

Herremans, the left guard since 2006, was moved permanently to right tackle on Saturday, a move that was forced by Winston Justices lingering knee soreness following two off-season surgeries. Veteran Evan Mathis, who joined the Eagles a week into training camp, took over at left guard.

With Kelce and rookie first-round pick Danny Watkins at right guard, the Eagles have two rookie offensive linemen in the starting lineup for only the third time in the last 60 years.

The last NFL team to reach the playoffs with two rookies starting on the offensive line was the 2005 Patriots, with Nick Kaczur and Logan Mankins.

I know it can work, Mornhinweg said. Im very confident that it will work. Im real confident that they will be playing at a high level very quickly.

Is it a risk to start two rookies on the offensive line, a right tackle who hasnt played tackle in six years and a left guard who just joined the Eagles a month ago?

Theres risk in just about everything you do, Mornhinweg said. Theres a risk in staying put, as well.

That Watkins would become a starter surprised nobody. He was the 23rd pick in the draft and was essentially given the starting spot on draft day. It didnt hurt that the two guys who manned right guard last year -- Max Jean-Gilles and Nick Cole -- were fringe NFL players and not brought back.

But Kelce? He was the 191st pick in the draft. The last offensive lineman drafted as low as the sixth round to start for the Eagles as a rookie was Ken Reeves back in 1985.

I didnt see it coming, lets put it that way, Kelce said. Im very confident in what I can do (but) I didnt come into this expecting it.

Kelce, at 280 pounds, is 45 pounds lighter than Jackson and more of a prototypical Howard Mudd kind of guy. Smaller, faster, quicker, more athletic.

In fact, the interior of this years offensive line is an average of 35 pounds per man lighter than last years. Thats 105 fewer pounds up the middle against some pretty big, physical defensive lines.

The scheme suits my ability as a player, and I think thats why they drafted me, Kelce said. From a mental aspect, I pick things up pretty quickly, quicker than most people. I think its just a really good situation I was able to come into."

If he does indeed start the opener, Kelce will be only the second rookie at any position drafted in the sixth round or later to start an opener in Reids 13 years as Eagles head coach. Tight end Jed Weaver started the 1999 opener.

The three rookies who have started an opener on the O-line for Reid are John Welbourn at right tackle and Doug Brzyzinski at left guard in 1999 and Shawn Andrews at right guard in 2004. Welbourn and Andrews both suffered season-ending injuries in the opener, so Brzyzinski is the only rookie whos started a full season on the offensive line under Reid.

Im definitely pleased with myself so far, Kelce said. Was put in a rough situation with the lockout and everything like that, and Ive got to give a lot of credit to Jamaal and the other veterans whove done a great job helping me progress.

Im happy. I dont know what else to say. Im going to be able to play on Sundays.

As for the 31-year-old Jackson, it remains to be seen whether the Eagles will keep him around as a backup, try to trade him to a team looking for veteran depth or simply release him. Jackson said Monday he has gotten some reps at guard, so he could be an insurance policy in case Watkins struggles.

Im not the general manager, so youre asking the wrong person that question, he said. My whole mind set is to come to work every day, work hard, do what I can to help this team win. Thats been my goal since Day 1 and it will continue to be my goal.

Im not one to say whats fair and whats not fair. If they feel its best for the team, then I agree with them.

Asked if he expected this to happen, knowing that Mudd prefers smaller, quicker linemen and Kelce weighs just 280, Jackson said: Then its up to the player to change his mind. It all boils down to what I have to do, what I have to get better at, and Ill move forward from this.

Mornhinweg wouldnt rule out this newly constructed offensive line actually getting some work together Thursday night against the Jets in the preseason finale at the Meadowlands. That would go against convention for Reid, who never plays his rookies in the final preseason game.

Either way, its likely that this offensive line will be a work in progress. The expectation is that the line that finishes the season will be much better and more cohesive than the group that faces the Rams in 13 days.

Weve really done a good job of progressing since camp has started, Kelce said. Were going to be as ready as we can be.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — At least Odubel Herrera was honest about it.

“I didn’t expect to hit it that far,” he said with a big grin on his face late Wednesday afternoon.

A couple of hours earlier, Herrera helped key an 8-5 Phillies’ win over the Detroit Tigers with a towering home run into the right-field seats against Anibal Sanchez (see Instant Replay).

Herrera unloaded on the hanging slider and finished with his bat high.

As the bat reached its apex, Herrera didn’t just let it go. He flipped it in the air as if to say, ‘Uh-ah, I crushed that one.’ In the annals of bat flips, it wasn’t quite Jose Bautista quality, but it wasn’t far off. The flip was so dramatic that Herrera admitted after the game that he would not have been surprised if a Tigers pitcher had retaliated and stuck a pitch in his ribs later in the game.

Retribution never came. And Herrera left Detroit with a smile on his face and yet another big day for the Phillies. He is leading the club with a .327 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage is second-best in baseball.

Herrera's big home run helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola and the Phillies on a day when they really needed a win. After all, they had lost four of their previous five and are headed into the den of baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday.

“For me, it was a must-win,” said manager Pete Mackanin, whose club is 26-21. “We’d lost four of five and I felt like we needed to come out of here with a win.

“The guys battled the whole game. To me it looked like they played like they had to win this game, which was nice to see. It looked like they played knowing we had to win. They were grinding and coming up with hits. Call it what you want, it was just the feeling I got.

“I’m not going to say I’m anxious to see the Cubs; they’re a hell of a team. But I’m hopeful we can take two out of three.”

The Tigers are one of baseball’s best hitting teams.

The Phillies are one of the worst. They entered the day scoring just 3.2 runs per game.

But on this day, the Phillies out-hit the Tigers, 12-10, to salvage one game in the series.

Nola went six innings, allowed four runs, a walk and struck out six. He left with a 7-4 lead. Things got hairy in the seventh, but Hector Neris cleaned up things for David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez registered his majors-leading 17th save.

In between, Peter Bourjos had a couple of big hits, including his first homer of the season. Andres Blanco started at second over Cesar Hernandez and had a couple of big hits, as well. Bourjos and Blanco even hooked up on a double steal with Blanco becoming the first Phillie to swipe home since Chase Utley in 2009. (An off-line throw to second by Tigers catcher James McCann helped.) 

“We have to try things,” Mackanin said. “We can’t bang it out with most teams so we have to try that kind of stuff, take chances.”

The Phillies actually banged it on this day.

Bourjos’ homer in the seventh provided some valuable cushion.

There are no cheap homers in spacious Comerica Park. Bourjos’ homer traveled 401 feet according to ESPN’s play by play.

Though Bourjos claimed he did not see Herrera’s bat flip in fifth inning, he was aware of it. For the record, Bourjos did not flip his bat on his homer. He put his head down and ran.

“I don’t have that kind of swag,” he said with a laugh.

Bat flips make some folks, particularly old-schoolers, uncomfortable. Bautista’s famous bat flip against Texas in the playoffs last season led to simmering tensions all winter and eventually a brawl between the two teams two weeks ago.

Mackanin actually seemed a little uncomfortable talking about Herrera’s flip.

“I did not see it,” Mackanin said. “A lot of players believe that they should be able to celebrate. But I didn’t see it. I wish you never brought it up.”

Herrera explained that he always flips his bat, even when he makes outs. This one had a little extra oomph, he said, because, "I didn’t expect to hit it that far.”

And how far did he hit it?

Well, ESPN’s play by play said it traveled 409 feet. MLB’s Statcast said it went 427.

Either way, that’s a long Uber ride.

Herrera was asked what was more impressive, the flip or the homer?

“Both,” he said with a laugh.

Herrera has become a more demonstrative player in his second year in the league. He’s letting his emotions show. On Monday night, frustration over a poor at-bat got the best of him. He did not run out a ball back to the pitcher and was benched.

On Wednesday, his emotion was more triumphant, hence the bat flip. But sometimes that can make an opponent angry. There were no repercussions Wednesday and probably won’t be because the Tigers and Phillies don’t see each other again this season. But down the road?

“I’m not worried,” Mackanin said.

“It was nothing personal,” Herrera said. “It was natural.”

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

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Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT – The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

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Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.