Epic DB backfires leave Eagles in familiar spot


Epic DB backfires leave Eagles in familiar spot

By failing miserably in their infamous 2011 attempt to build a Super Bowl-ready secondary, the Eagles find themselves in the same position nearly two years later.

With free agency around the corner -- the legal tampering window starts midnight Saturday -- and the draft quickly approaching, the Eagles enter the main period for roster assembly with a secondary that needs reinforcements at every position.

In fact, their defensive backfield is more suspect now than it was after the 2010 season, when the club set a franchise record for most passing touchdowns allowed. Last year’s team was just the eighth in NFL history to allow at least 30 touchdown passes and intercept fewer than 10.

Epic backfires Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are headed for the exits after two woefully uneventful seasons, and nobody would be stunned if the Eagles believed that both of their starting safeties from last season -- Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman -- needed to be replaced.

At very least, three of the five positions (including nickelback) will have new faces going into 2013, which means the Eagles will attempt to execute the most complex overnight reconstruction project in the game.

Several NFL personnel chiefs acknowledged that the secondary is the most difficult area of the defense to overhaul on the fly compared to the defensive line and linebackers.

“Defensive line, I feel like typically you can find guys even as college free agents that at least have the athletic tools to play that don’t need much prep time to play,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. “I mean, we played with guys on Sunday that we brought in Tuesday and threw them in at nose guard and three-technique and five-technique and they were at least able to get us through a game.

“So, I would say the secondary you have to be a little bit more engaged, especially at the safety position.”

The problem is, the law of supply and demand makes for complicated economics. Corners and safeties are among the most coveted commodities every offseason as the league trends more toward spread offenses and hurry-up attacks that limit personnel substitutions.

In this age of 5,000-yard passers and receivers who resemble linebackers but run like sprinters, it’s no longer feasible to compete with just one Pro Bowler in your secondary, and the gulf between good defensive backs and great ones makes the jockey for an elite even more cutthroat.

“The one thing that has changed a little bit in the NFL is the need for corners has vastly changed,” said Steve Keim, first-year general manager of the Cardinals. “So many times now you’re playing 60 percent of nickel defense, so all of a sudden that fifth DB becomes a starter.

“So when you look at teams sometimes and ... you say, ‘How many times is that third receiver or fourth receiver, how does he compare to that third or fourth corner?’ It’s supply and demand and there’s not a ton of corners out there and everybody always needs them, so it can be extremely difficult to vastly change your secondary and the landscape of it.”

Yet, this is exactly the dilemma the Eagles face (again) as they look to equip first-year head coach Chip Kelly with a roster that can immediately be competitive and get the franchise back into the postseason. The trick for general manager Howie Roseman and his personnel staff is avoiding their 2011 mistakes, while simultaneously staying aggressive on the open market.

The additions of Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie were disastrous on so many levels and served as painful reminders of the perils involved of building with outsiders. At the same time, the Eagles can’t enter 2013 with a stable of defensive backs just a few months removed from their last frat party.

It appears as if the Eagles understand that they need to use both free agency and the draft to fill their myriad holes. As CSNPhilly.com reported last month, the brain trust has interest in targeting free-agent cornerback Sean Smith, a physical talent who spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins and is considered among the top three corners on the market (see story).

Dashon Goldson, the 49ers safety who is expected to hit free agency, would be another sensible addition. So would Jets safety Laron Landry, who the Eagles passed on last year, or Jaguars corner Derek Cox.

The team is also said to be interested in safety Rashad Johnson, a backup for the past four seasons with Arizona whose play on special teams has caught the eyes of league executives.

This year’s draft is loaded with defensive backs who several personnel men think can start immediately, including Alabama’s Dee Milliner, the sparkling gem of the cornerback class who could be picked by the Eagles at No. 4 overall.

“When I look at it, there are a number of corners in this draft class that can play and they can help teams as a one, two or three,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “I would say that’s a strength. There’s a strong safety class. In our minds, there are five or six starters in this class at safety and that’s rare to me.”

If the Eagles signed Smith and drafted Milliner, they’d be in pretty good shape at corner, especially with the return of second-year slot corner Brandon Boykin. They’d also be following the blueprint laid out last year by the Rams, who rebuilt their secondary through the draft and free agency and then jumped up eight spots in overall defense and more than tripled their win total from 2011.

St. Louis turned over almost its entire defensive backfield last year under new coach Jeff Fisher by lavishing free-agent corner Cortland Finnegan with a five-year, $50 million deal and using the 39th and 65th overall picks on cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, respectively.

All three played prominent roles for the Rams, who improved from 22nd overall on defense to 14th overall. Jenkins, a first-round prospect whose troubled background forecasted his slide, picked off four passes and returned three of them for touchdowns.

“You get those two players [Finnegan and Jenkins],” Rams general manager Lester Snead said, “you not only upgrade, you went to one of the best tandems in the league.”

Thanks to bad drafting and their free-agent blunders, the Eagles don’t even have backups who can step into starting positions and hold the fort down while the front office works on patching the holes.

If reserve corner Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-round pick, couldn’t impress himself on the coaches last year with all the turmoil among the corners, it stands to reason that he doesn’t factor in Kelly’s plan going forward.

Dime corner Brandon Hughes and backup safety Colt Anderson, a restricted free agent, aren’t viewed as anything more than special teams standouts.

Boykin could potentially move outside, but that would leave the team with a gaping hole in the slot, a position that’s become more valued over the past few years. Maybe the new regime can unlock the potential of safety David Sims, but that’s a tall order.

If Roseman and Kelly were being honest last month when they each dismissed the idea of a transition season, then the Eagles can’t gradually manicure the secondary and pin their hopes solely on draft picks.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

USA Today Images

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers-Canadiens 5 things: Long week starts with a bang

Flyers at Canadiens
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers’ mettle will be tested this week with a stretch of five games in seven days.

That’s a lot of pucks.

It starts Monday night when the Flyers (2-2-1) visit the hot-starting Montreal Canadiens (4-0-1) at the Bell Centre.

Let’s get you set with five things to know for the matchup:

1. Goals, goals, goals
There should be an abundance of them Monday night.

The Canadiens are scoring an NHL-most 4.00 goals per game while the Flyers, coming off a six-goal outburst, are third at 3.80.

Montreal has been scary good through five games. Not only are the Canadiens lighting the lamp at a league-best clip, but they’re also allowing the fewest goals per game at 1.60 a night. They have hockey’s No. 1 goal differential (plus-11) and No. 8 penalty kill, having thwarted 23 of 25 opponents' power plays (92.0 percent).

The Canadiens' offseason additions of defenseman Shea Weber and backup goalie Al Montoya have paid instant dividends. Weber, acquired in a blockbuster trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Predators, has one goal, four assists and leads all NHL blueliners with a plus-8 rating. Montoya, who filled in early for a flu-stricken Carey Price, is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. Price, the 2014-15 Hart Memorial Trophy winner (NHL MVP), looks in form after playing just 12 games last season because of a knee injury.

2. A fresher Ghost
Shayne Gostisbehere went off for three points (one goal, two assists) in the Flyers’ 6-3 win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, his biggest output of the season.

It just so happened to come in a game in which Gostisbehere registered his lowest ice time of the season at 16:45, a significant drop from his previous low of 20:57. Before the defenseman’s three-point game, Gostisbehere played an average of 23:14 over the prior three games while totaling one point and a minus-3 rating.

Is it a coincidence Gostisbehere’s best game yet was in far less ice time? Maybe, but the 23-year-old is playing the Flyers’ most minutes (21:29 per game) after undergoing offseason surgery and finishing the longest year of his hockey life.

Defensemen Mark Streit (22:45), Nick Schultz (19:44) and Brandon Manning (18:41) all played season highs in minutes on Saturday, and there’s no way that was by mistake.

If head coach Dave Hakstol can manage Gostisbehere’s ice time and not rely so heavily on the second-year blueliner, it can only help the Flyers. A more rested Gostisbehere is a better Gostisbehere — and we all know how vital the 2015-16 Calder Trophy runner-up is to the Flyers’ power-play success, as well as defensive coverage.

3. Stop and start
Speaking of defensive coverage, while the Flyers are scoring quite a bit, they’re not stopping anyone. The orange and black are surrendering 3.80 goals per game — tied for fifth most in the NHL — which is exactly what they score on average.

The Flyers can’t consistently bank on winning goal-fests.

Starting fast will be critical against the Canadiens, who close games as well as anyone. Montreal is outscoring its opposition 17-6 through the second and third periods. The Flyers have just one goal in the first period.

Facing this Habs team, it’ll be problematic if the Flyers fail to get going early.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Matt Read, why not? With five goals, the 30-year-old is astoundingly tied for second in the NHL with Maple Leafs phenom Auston Matthews. Last season, it took Read 29 games to score five goals. The previous season, he needed 56 games. This year, just five. Until he comes back to Earth, Read will be worth watching as much as any other Flyer.

Canadiens: The 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk racked up career highs last season in goals (30) and points (56). To start this season, the 2012 No. 3 overall pick has a goal and four assists in five games. Young and offensive-minded, Galchenyuk has given the Flyers trouble in the past with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 11 career games against them.

5. This and that
• Steve Mason has played in the Flyers’ last four games with three starts and one relief appearance. Michal Neuvirth has not played since last Tuesday. He is 6-4-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 13 lifetime games against Montreal.

• Price is 11-9-0 with a 2.61 GAA and .916 save percentage in 21 career games against the Flyers.

• Jakub Voracek leads the Flyers in points with seven but is third in the NHL in penalty minutes with 24.

• The Canadiens have won three straight games by a combined score of 13-4.

• Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (knee) and forward Scott Laughton (knee) returned to practice on Sunday.