Eagles rookie kickers ready to handle the pressure


Eagles rookie kickers ready to handle the pressure

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Asante Samuel raised his arms, started to holler and implored the fans watching the morning practice at Lehigh to raise their voices and make some noise with him.

Those in attendance at the Eagles morning practice at training camp on Monday happily obliged.

So, Alex Henery, the Eagles fourth-round draft pick and David Akers' replacement calmly, smoothly kicked the 50-yard attempt and tucked in inside the right post.

What pressure?

I was hitting the ball the best Ive hit it out here today, he said.

While Henery made that kick and had an overall good day, it hasnt been all sunshine and rainbows for the Nebraska product. Far from it.

Henery has had an inconsistent camp. Even on Monday, the day he said was his best, he missed several kicks. One terrible miss on a 53-yarder even prompted one fan to yell out, A fourth-round pick? For that?"

Welcome to Philadelphia. Welcome to a city with Super Bowl aspirations and a team with a chance of winning it all. Welcome to a city where Akers played 12 seasons, made five Pro Bowls and became the franchises all-time points leader.

Pressure what pressure?

If you let the pressure get to you, all the outside stuff can get in your mind, Henery said. I dont let that kind of stuff, what people say, get to me.

So there was the rookie kicker, with the Eagles faithful watching and making game-like noise at Samuels request. Henery was aware of it all; he just didnt care.

Its something I didnt even really take notice to and just go out there and hit it like I usually do, he said.

The Birds new kicker didnt care about the added noise during his kick at training camp, but special teams coach Bobby April did. In fact, he was delighted.

I thought it was good, April said with a smile. Oh yeah, I like that. I wish it was louder. I think its an energy booster. I think it gets everybody involved, lets everybody know how important the play is and it puts Alex in the mind of this is a big kick because hes gonna kick a bunch of big ones.

Kicking big ones isnt new to Henery, who had to make a ton of important kicks in college at Nebraska.

Likewise, new undrafted rookie punter Chas Henry, who also serves as Henerys holder, punted in many big games in college at Florida.

Fortunately, that was one of the reasons we liked them, April said. Theyve both been in pressure. I mean really big-time pressure situations.

Its a little different in the NFL because its a national, 247 pressure, but theyve played in big games where theres a lot of chips on the table.

Henry first met Henery at the Senior Bowl and then got to know him even more at the Combine. Henry said that long snapper Jon Dorenbos, an eight-year NFL veteran, has been the perfect guy to show the two rookies the ropes.

The trio spends most of training camp together practicing, getting better and solidifying its routine.

Just working on timing it up with the snapper and holder and getting ready for the season, Henery said. It hasnt been too bad. The first few days it took a little bit of adjusting. Today I really felt that we were in a routine.

The routine is important for snappers, kickers and holders. This season that cohesion was even harder to form because of the lockout. They had even less time than normal to prepare thanks to the work stoppage.

Interestingly enough though, April thinks the lockout and the time off might actually turn out to be beneficial to the pair of rookies.

Itd be nice to have workouts in the off-season, but it will also keep them fresher, April said. Otherwise, they would have kicked for almost an entire year and then had to go through a season. Maybe they would be a little ahead right now with their consistency and striking it, but would they be better players in December? I dont know. I think their legs might give out.

There are still things on which both rookies need to work. Henry booted just a 28-yarder for his last punt in the Eagles first preseason game.

And while Henery may have nailed the 50-yarder in the face of Samuels noise-maker, hes struggled to be consistent something hes not used to after making 90 percent of his collegiate attempts.

You know theyre talented and you just keep wanting them to climb that mountain until they get to the summit, April said. Im pleased with the progression. I want them to be accelerated and every day I want to see them get better. And sometimes they flat line and sometimes they dip a little bit, but theyre gonna be there. Theyre gonna be there.

No pressure.
E-mail Dave Zangaro at dzangaro@comcastsportsnet.com

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards


Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff


Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins


Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.