Epic DB backfires leave Eagles in familiar spot

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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.

Trace McSorley named Penn State's starting quarterback

Trace McSorley named Penn State's starting quarterback

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Trace McSorley will start at quarterback for Penn State when the Nittany Lions open against Kent State on Sept 3.

Coach James Franklin settled on the sophomore after McSorley battled redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens for the job through the spring and summer.

"We're excited what he brings to our offense," Franklin said Wednesday. "I think the biggest thing is he's been the backup quarterback for two years. He has game experience and there's value in that. You've been able to see it already, you're not projecting as much."

McSorley will make his first career start at home against Kent State.

"It's a lot of weight off my shoulders," McSorley said. "Over the whole offseason, Tommy and I were pushing each other. This team will be better because of how this competition went with us pushing each other."

Both quarterbacks are strong runners, but McSorley's experience gave him the edge.

His shiftiness was utilized in practice throughout his tenure as Christian Hackenberg's backup. He usually led the scout team against the top defense, offering a similar look to the opposing running quarterbacks Penn State would play.

Although he's played sparingly on Saturdays in that time, McSorley saw meaningful snaps in Penn State's bowl game in relief of an injured Hackenberg. Then, McSorley completed 14 of 17 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns, ran seven times for 31 yards and nearly led a comeback against Georgia.

Now, McSorley will try and turn around a unit that's ranked 105th and 114th in total offense the last two seasons. He'll do so in a spread-based offense designed for a mobile quarterback and led by new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

"I think the best thing about the way he runs the ball is he's savvy," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "He sets up his cuts. You play a guy who's a statue in the pocket and you cover well, he gets sacked. Now we have another element. Not only do you have to worry about covering guys, but when that four or five seconds is up there's that option of scrambling, another aspect of the play you have to worry about."

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers fans packed Los Angeles City Hall chambers to witness the mayor and other officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in honor of the retired NBA superstar.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday's declaration is the city's way of thanking Bryant for his excellence on the court and philanthropic efforts across Los Angeles.

Bryant attended with his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He called the experience "surreal" and jokingly said someone would have to explain to his unborn daughter why "daddy has a day named for him."

Fans cheered and chanted Bryant's name as he was presented a framed proclamation by Mayor Eric Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson.

Bryant played his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships.

Lakers: No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, vet Yi Jianlian signed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed top draft pick Brandon Ingram and Chinese NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and re-signed center Tarik Black.

Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft. The Duke product's rookie contract is expected to be worth more than $23 million over four years.

The 28-year-old Yi hasn't played in the NBA since 2011-12 with Dallas. The former No. 6 overall draft pick by Milwaukee spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging a career-best 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for New Jersey in 2009-10.

Yi spent the past four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He is an eight-time MVP of the CBA, winning four championships.

The 6-foot-11 Yi averaged 20.4 points per game for China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Black has averaged 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in two seasons with the Lakers.

Timberwolves: Towns chosen as face of 2K mobile app
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been tabbed to be the face of 2K's mobile companion application to NBA 2K17 video game, which is set to launch on Sept. 8.

The reigning rookie of the year will be the icon cover athlete for MyNBA2K17, the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Towns. The NBA 2K franchise has been the No. 1 selling NBA video game for the last eight years.

"I've been a dedicated NBA 2K fan since I was young, and being selected as the face of MyNBA2K17 is an incredible milestone this early in my career," Towns said on Wednesday. "Playing MyNBA2K and NBA2K is an essential part of my offseason and keeps me grounded during the season with all my travel. I love that I will have the opportunity to connect further with my fans through MyNBA2K17."

The free app connects players to the NBA 2K17 console game and includes facial scanning technology. That allows fans to design players for the game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 using their own facial features. The app also allows users to watch 2KTV on their mobile devices and play quick games and season tournaments against users around the world.

Towns also has deals with Nike and Samsung among others and made a guest appearance on the Disney television show "Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything" this summer.

On the court, he is teaming with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to try to end the Timberwolves' 12-year playoff drought.

Questions loom for Mark Sanchez entering Broncos' 3rd preseason game

Questions loom for Mark Sanchez entering Broncos' 3rd preseason game

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos face critical decisions two weeks before the Super Bowl champions open the season.

They have more questions than answers heading into the third preseason game, none more glaring than at quarterback. Trevor Siemian was named the starter ahead of veteran Mark Sanchez for the game against the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, and the full-time job appears to be his to lose.

Siemian, in his second year out of Northwestern, said he isn't looking beyond the Rams.

"I'm not reading too much into it," he said of his second straight start.

Siemian was limited in practice Tuesday because of a bruised right shoulder but he was throwing Wednesday. Coach Gary Kubiak said Siemian did 80 percent of his usual workload and is still on track to be the starter against the Rams.

"He looked good," Kubiak said. "I think he was a little sore coming out but he worked through it and hopefully he'll be better (Thursday)."

Siemian was 10 of 14 for 75 yards and led the Broncos to a touchdown on their first drive of Saturday's game against San Francisco. He dinged his shoulder when he tried to make a tackle on safety Ed Reid, who intercepted him and returned it for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

"I was a little sore and it got a little more sore as it went on. I didn't feel anything right away," Siemian said. "I've gotten better each day. If I'm playing (Saturday) I won't be holding back."

Sanchez struggled in last Saturday's loss to San Francisco. He was 10 of 17 for 120 yards, fumbled twice and was nearly picked off. He said after the game that he "squandered an opportunity" to separate himself from Siemian as the No. 1 quarterback. He clarified that comment Wednesday.

"Squandered an opportunity that game," he said. "It wasn't like, `OK, that's it, throw in the towel.' A lot of people interpreted it that way. That's never been my attitude. I don't quit. I'll take this thing down the wire if that's what it takes, and that's what it looks like, so let's go."

Sanchez wouldn't speculate when asked if this is his last chance to be a starter in the NFL.

"That's a big-picture question," he said. "I'm still in the moment."

The offensive line is still unsettled, most notably right guard. Ty Sambrailo was the projected starter but a hyperextended elbow has sidelined him for most of training camp. Darrion Weems was playing well in place of Sambrailo but suffered a concussion against San Francisco.

Sambrailo is still wearing a brace and has not taken part in practice. Weems is in the concussion protocol.

C.J. Anderson is the clear No. 1 running back but veteran Ronnie Hillman's spot on the roster is in jeopardy because of the play of rookie Devontae Booker and second-year back Kapri Bibbs.

Hillman led the Broncos in rushing last year with 863 yards but Anderson was the main back in the postseason. Anderson rushed for 90 yards and a score in the Super Bowl while Hillman had just five attempts for no gain.

Hillman has responded after being pushed by Booker and Bibbs.

"I thought Ronnie had his most productive game and week last week," Kubiak said. "Ronnie is pushing hard. Kapri has been consistent and Kapri has been a really good special teams player. Those are the things that are really important."

Notes
WR Bennie Fowler had the brace removed from his fractured right elbow and did some work on the field before practice Wednesday. Kubiak said Fowler could be ready for the season opener against Carolina. ... C James Ferentz is out for a few weeks after having a knee scoped Monday. ... DE Derek Wolfe missed his second straight practice to deal with a family issue, Kubiak said. ... CB Aqib Talib returned to practice after missing Tuesday due to illness.