FSU's Manuel: Kelly system 'would be easy transition'

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FSU's Manuel: Kelly system 'would be easy transition'

MOBILE, Ala. -- Five years ago, Chip Kelly tried to sell E.J. Manuel on the prospect of spearheading the explosive University of Oregon offense.

Tempting, but one problem. To run the Oregon offense, Manuel would have to attend school in Oregon.

I wanted to, man. But it was far, Manuel, the record-setting quarterback from Florida State, said Wednesday. Im from Virginia, so thats clear across the country and obviously Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was the main person I wanted to play for. But I was really intrigued by coach Kelly. It was a great program, had great uniforms. That was something I liked as well. It was just too far.

Fast forward to 2013.

Kelly is the Eagles newest head coach, headquartered in South Philly and attempting to introduce his innovative college offense -- or some variation of it -- into the NFL. Manuel, one of the six quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, is willing to relocate anywhere for the chance to be an NFL quarterback.

This time, Kelly needs no sales pitch. Just a draft pick.

When I first met him I was a high school guy, I didnt really know his offense, Manuel said. Obviously, watching him when I was in college ... very electric. Put a lot of points on the board. Thats the kind of offense people want to see on TV. I think if he brings that to the NFL hell bring life back to Philadelphia. Id love to be a part of it.

Manuel met with Kelly for 15 minutes Monday night as the 50 or so draft prospects involved in the Senior Bowl are funneled into meeting rooms and then ushered from one interview to another -- speed-dating style -- with the coaching staffs and personnel departments of almost every NFL team.

The Eagles have also met with two other quarterbacks -- West Chesters Ryan Nassib, a fast-rising prospect from Syracuse, and Arkansas Tyler Wilson -- and it can be safely assumed that each of the six will have sat down with Kelly and his staff before Saturdays game.

Manuel is perhaps the most intriguing prospect of the six because of his skill set and his potential in the offense Kelly plans to run. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound former Seminole passed for more than 3,000 yards this past season, rushed for more than 300 yards, totaled 27 touchdowns and left with Florida States career accuracy record.

Given the success this year of Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, three quarterbacks with great mobility and different draft pedigrees, it stands to reason that changes in the NFL game have helped boost Manuels stock.

Those guys are still throwing the ball vertically down the field at a high level, so you cant just say theyre runners, Manuel said. Theyre throwing the ball great and theyre still running great and thats whats breaking the defenses back out there.

Although the book on Manuel is that his accuracy dips in the face of heavy pressure and that his delivery isnt textbook, those flaws could potentially be masqueraded by an offense designed to capitalize on his ability to take off or just the threat of taking off, which is an advantage Kelly has discussed several times in the past week.

The Seminoles incorporated some of the same read-option concepts that have become trendy in the college ranks and are catching on for some NFL teams with mobile quarterbacks.

Just the fact that I can do the read option as far as reading the defensive end and doing the run off it or still throwing the bubble screen outside or doing the vertical game, Manuel said. I did a lot of that at Florida State. We didnt run the same exact offense as far as the option or the spread but I know I could do it. It would be an easy transition for me.

Manuel said the Noles went no-huddle about 70 percent of the time and preferred to line up without at least 13, 14 seconds left on the play clock, and then that way I could declare my middle linebacker, point out my sight adjustments, things like that.

Its unknown right now if Kelly is sold on the three quarterbacks the Eagles currently have under contract in Mike Vick, Nick Foles and Trent Edwards. Although the buzz around Mobile is that Kelly will lean toward a cleaner slate and seek someone from outside the roster to lead his offense, general manager Howie Roseman cautioned against jumping the gun.

He hasnt had the chance to watch tape, Roseman said. He does have a very good impression of the people on our roster. He has coached against Nick obviously. Everyone has watched Mike. He did coach against Trent, too, at one point when Trent was at Stanford. I think for him, he just wants to get behind closed doors, lock himself in, watch tape, come out and say, Lets have a discussion.

Until then, the Eagles are doing diligence here in Mobile with the crop of quarterbacks, a group of passers that noticeably lacks West Virginias Geno Smith and USCs Matt Barkley, two projected first-rounders who both decided to pass on invitations to play.

Manuel, currently projected as a mid-to-late round pick, seemed to think hes exactly the kind of guy for Kellys scheme and practically lobbied for the position.

I know I can do his offense, Manuel said. I hope he gives me the opportunity to play for him and kind of build the Eagle tradition back up. That would be nice.

Manuel didnt elaborate on what he and Kelly discussed Monday night but called the interview awesome and reflected on the time when Kelly once tried to lure him to across the country.

It was awesome just seeing him again, Manuel added. It wasnt like I had just met him for the first time. I had known him well for five years now. I was happy to see the success he had as a head coach at Oregon and Im sure hell do the same in the NFL.

Manuel also said he sensed that Kelly was fully committed to the Eagles and had put the college game behind.

Hes all ready to go, Manuel added I just hope he gives me an opportunity.

Email Geoff Mosher at gmosher@comcastsportsnet.com

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

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Eagles mailbag: Jordan Matthews; injury concern, leading rusher

Another day, another mailbag. 

I hope you're enjoying your Memorial Day Weekend. If you're reading this on the beach or at a BBQ, well done. 

Yesterday, I answered the first round of your questions about Doug Pederson, Brandon Spikes and the possibility of adding another running back. 

Today, I'll answer some more: 

At times, Jordan Matthews will still be in the slot this season. But he won't be there all the time. 

In Doug Pederson's offense, the receivers will move around quite a bit, which means we'll see Matthews lining up out wide on both sides and in the slot. He has the ability to do both. Either way, he's going to be on the field. He's clearly the Eagles best receiver and they're not going to take him off the field. 

I think there's a good chance we'll see some Josh Huff in the slot this year, which would make a ton of sense to me. Huff is at his best when he gets the ball in his hands and can make something happen. He's shifty enough to play in the middle. 

The idea that slot receivers are just small, shifty guys is outdated. It's all about matchups and Pederson won't be afraid to move his receivers around to find the best ones. 

Good question. I'll give you two names. One on offense and one on defense. 

Now, I didn't just pick the best players, I picked the best players with the biggest drop off to their backups. So on offense, it's Jason Peters and on defense it's Jordan Hicks. 

The scary thing: it wouldn't be shocking if either of these two go down in 2016. 

If Peters goes down, the Eagles will be fine at left tackle, because Lane Johnson will shift over. But that means either Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai will come in. We all know what's happened in the past when Kelly comes in, and Vaitai is just a rookie. Not a ton of great depth at tackle. 

As for Hicks, we saw what happened to the defense when he went out last season. And this year, the team has virtually no depth at linebacker. If Hicks went down, either veteran special teams player Najee Goode or rookie Joe Walker would need to fill in. Yikes. 

I understand it's kind of a cop-out to just pick the top running back on the depth chart, but that's what I'm doing. I know Ryan Mathews has a lengthy injury history, but I can't see Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood or Kenjon Barner being the team's leading rusher. 

And when healthy, Mathews was the team's best running back in 2015, going for 539 yards on 106 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. If he manages to play 12 games this year, I think he'll be the team's leading rusher. 

Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

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Phillies pitching prospect Mark Appel hits DL with shoulder strain

Mark Appel, whose fastball velocity was down considerably in the first inning of his last start, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a shoulder strain.

Appel, 24, is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in eight starts for Triple A Lehigh Valley in his first year in the Phillies' system. He's struggled his last four times out, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in 16⅓ innings on 20 hits and 11 walks.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 out of Stanford, Appel has had a disappointing pro career to this point. In 62 minor-league games (61 starts), he has a 5.04 ERA. The Phillies acquired him from Houston as part of the Ken Giles trade this past winter.

Appel's trip to the DL creates an opportunity for right-hander Ben Lively, who was promoted from Double A Reading to Triple A to take Appel's place in the IronPigs' rotation. Lively, acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd prior to the 2015 season, is 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA this season.