Even with young talent, LB still unstable for Eagles

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Even with young talent, LB still unstable for Eagles

Friday, May 6, 2011
Posted: 2:52 p.m.

By Reuben Frank
CSNPhilly.com

When Andy Reid is asked about the Eagles lack of stability in recent years at linebacker, he brings up two names.

Jeremiah Trotter and Carlos Emmons.

As in two guys who last played together in 2001.

As in a decade ago.

So much for stability.

Reid has always believed that putting young talented players together at one position group and letting them evolve and grow has been a key to building the extended period of success the Eagles have enjoyed over the past decade.

Troy and Bobby. Trent and Juqua. Lito and Sheldon. Bunkley and Patterson. Maclin and DeSean. Tra and Runyan. Dawk and Q. Westbrook and Buck. Akers and Sav.

Its all about stability and consistency.

And the Eagles have had it everywhere during the Reid Era. Except linebacker.

Theyve tried. Theyve failed. Theyre trying again.

The Eagles drafted three linebackers this year, the first time theyve done that in a quarter of a century, since Buddy Ryan took Alonzo Johnson, Byron Lee and Seth Joyner in the 1986 draft.

With Casey Matthews in the fourth round, Brian Rolle in the sixth and Greg Lloyd in the seventh in addition to Moise Fokou in the seventh round in 2009 and Keenan Clayton in the fourth round and Jamar Chaney in the seventh last year, the Eagles have drafted six linebackers in the last three years.

For the first time in a generation, they have a fleet of young, athletic linebackers.

Will this translate into production on the field? That remains to be seen. But at least theyre trying a different approach.

Carlos and Trott, we felt pretty good with that and we had different guys come in and play that WIL linebacker position, but thats OK, Trott was kind of the main cog in there, Reid said. Stewart Bradley came in and kind of took that over but then had the injuries that set him back.

But I think we feel pretty good right now about our linebacker situation. We have some young guys that have an opportunity to grow.

With Bradley, Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither and Ernie Sims all slated to become free agents pending the new set of free agency rules the Eagles have only four linebackers under contract: Chaney, Clayton, Fokou and CFL veteran Rashad Jeanty.

So its pretty clear the Eagles will go in a new direction at linebacker this year. Chaney is the only guy whos a lock to start, and he can play either middle or strong. That gives the coaches the flexibility to start the next two-best guys, whether thats Matthews and Clayton, Matthews and Fokou or Clayton and Fokou. Or maybe theyll bring Bradley back, put him back in the mix and hope he stays healthy.

Chaney is fast, and he gives you that flexibility where he can play strong-side or in the middle, Reid said. He can cover you in the pass game, which is good for the MIKE, too, the things we ask. He can be an every-down linebacker. The coaches have the confidence that he can be a starter at either position.

The thing about this group of linebackers is that every one was taken in the fourth round or later or went undrafted, and most guys drafted that late either arent fast enough or big enough or good enough to be impact players.

The Eagles havent taken a LB in the first three rounds since Bradley in the third round in 2007 and they havent drafted one in the first two rounds since the Matt McCoy disaster in 2005.

The last couple of drafts, what weve seen is that maybe the top isnt really talented, and we havent had the opportunity where were picking where the best player is a linebacker, but in the middle rounds there were a bunch of guys that we really liked that we thought had a chance to be solid players, general manager Howie Roseman said.

Maybe they had something there that wouldnt put them in the first or second round for some reason but guys that fit what we did.

That was certainly the case in 2009 with Fokou, last year with Chaney and this year with Rolle and Lloyd. None were among the first 190 players taken in their draft.

You bring in Casey and he can do some things, Rolle, hes kind of a special guy who can do a lot of things, and then you put Greg in the mix there hes probably a MIKE but he can probably play SAM for you. But hes played MIKE and hes a big kid, Reid said of this years rookies. Its good young competition in there. Theyre aggressive guys.

The problem is that usually when you draft linebackers in the late rounds, youre getting Joe Mays, Tyreo Harrison or David Bergeron ... not Chaney.

And if the Eagles are going to rebuild the linebacker spot with these young guys, theyre going to have to do it without a premium draft pick.

The Eagles have tried carving out a linebacking corps out of high draft picks (Barry Gardner, Quinton Caver, McCoy) and it obviously didnt work.

Theyve tried signing free agents (Dhani Jones, Takeo Spikes, Nate Wayne), and that obviously didnt work.

So maybe this will work. Young, fast, athletic and overachieving.

We found when we came back on Saturday, we saw how many linebackers were still on our draft board and we thought it was a great opportunity to knock out a couple of guys and then really practice what we preached which is bring in a lot of good players and try to create competition, Roseman said. And even if we have some depth there, thats a good thing.

Of the rookies, Matthews is the only one who would likely be capable of playing on every down. Rolle and Lloyd, if they make the team, will be special teamers who play a specific role if they get on the field on defense at all.

Bottom line: The position is unsettled.

Like it has been for a decade.

The Eagles have used 26 different starting linebackers and 20 different starting outside linebackers since Reid became head coach in 1999. Theyve lined up their starting linebackers 36 different ways since the 1999 opener.

Roseman said that as much as he and Reid like their current group of backers, theres a chance the Eagles will again try to supplant them with a veteran in free agency.

Youd like to have young guys and guys who can be here for a long time, but that doesnt mean were done or were satisfied, Roseman said. We talk about having the best 80-man roster in the National Football League, and if we kind of sit on our hands theres no way to do that, so well explore other avenues at every positions.

But were really satisfied with getting some of these guys. We didnt think wed come out of this draft with three linebackers certainly and we didnt try to force it. We just felt like they were the best players on the board when we were picking and we were fortunate to get them.

So who are the opening-day starters when the Eagles line up against the Rams in St. Louis on Sept. 12?

Just let it sort itself out, Roseman said, and thats what were trying to do with the linebacker position right now.

E-mail Reuben Frank at rfrank@comcastsportsnet.com

Related: Didinger's Eagles Mailbag: Examining the picks Buy Eagles gear

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.