QB Kafka shows he can play in loss to Falcons

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QB Kafka shows he can play in loss to Falcons

ATLANTA Mike Kafka showed he can play.On his first play in place of Michael Vick and first regular-season snap of his career in Sunday nights rollercoaster loss to Atlanta, Kafka handed the ball to LeSean McCoy. On the second snap, Kafka tossed the ball to McCoy, who lost two yards and fumbled. McCoy recovered it, Falcons defensive end John Abraham was called for roughing the passer, and on the next play McCoy ran for a two-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up 31-21.Yeah, it was great to get the score, Kafka said after the 35-31 loss.But that was McCoys score. Kafka hadnt shown much yet.The Falcons drove 80 yards to pull within 31-28. Back came Kafka. Four plays later his seven-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin came up a yard short of a first down Kafka was back on the sideline.The Falcons again drove 80 yards and again scored a touchdown. Falcons 35, Eagles 31. Less than five minutes to go. Vick in the locker room. Kafka was coming back. This was the first NFL game for the fourth-round pick in his second year in the league. Whats more, he was supposed to be the third-string quarterback. The Eagles brought in Vince Young to be Vicks backup, but Young was inactive for the second straight game with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason.Game over? Not for Kafka it wasnt.After hitting Maclin for nine yards, Kafka let one go. He threw a perfect strike across the field, again to Maclin, for 43 yards. But it did much more than gain 43 yards and put the Eagles on the Falcons 39. It showed the game was far from over.When you get a big play and you move the ball down the field, its always big, Kafka said. Its always a big confidence booster.And, so long as Maclin was still on the field, the Eagles had a chance. Maclin, at that point, had caught 11 of 12 passes thrown his way for 167 yards. On second-and-eight, Kafka hit Maclin for five more. Then he went to Maclin again, but the play lost a yard. On fourth-and-four, Maclin ran a quick slant and was open. Kafka threw it, and Maclin dropped it.Jeremys done a great job for us all year, Kafka said. I know I can help him out by getting it to him a little quicker, getting the ball up a little bit. Its an 11-man operation on offense, so well all take responsibility for that.But Maclin accepted all of it.Yeah, we were moving the ball, man, Maclin said. They made a great play on that third down. Fourth down came, and it was a very catchable ball. Its off my body a little bit, but Ive still got to catch that ball.Im better than that.It was just one of two balls intended for him that he didnt catch. The third-year pro finished with 13 receptions for 171 yards both career highs - as well as a pair of touchdowns. Brian Westbrook (14 catches vs. Dallas in 2007) and Don Looney (14 vs. Washington in 1940) are the only Eagles to catch more passes in a single game. Whats more, it was Maclin's fifth multi-touchdown performance in just 33 career games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only 10 receivers in league history have had more such games in the same span with Randy Moss (seven) being the most recent.None of that really matters if you dont come up with the W, Maclin said.But what does matter is the Eagles if neither Vick nor Young are ready appear to have a QB who is capable of leading them to a victory over the Giants in next Sundays home opener.Sure, it was only one game. One play, really. But Kafka showed, in hostile conditions, that he can handle a big stage. And who knows, maybe the second-year quarterback will get another chance next week.
Were very confident, Maclin said. Well be confident, well get a week in of practice, and if Vick cant go, well go out there and put on a show next Sunday.E-mail Andy Schwartz at aschwartz@comcastsportsnet.com

Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

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Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

It seems like Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided pulling Odubel Herrera in the seventh inning of a tied game on Monday is enough punishment for failing to run out a ground ball.

The centerfielder will be back in his customary leadoff spot when the Phillies take on Justin Verlander and the Tigers tonight at Comerica Park (see game notes).

Much of the talk surrounding the Phillies in the last 24 hours has centered on Herrera after Mackanin yanked him from the game Monday (see story). After all, Herrera's .335 batting average leads an offense-starved team that averages just 3.24 runs per game, second-worst in the majors. Before he was pulled on Monday, Herrera was 3 for 4 with an RBI and had a 15-pitch at-bat against starter Mike Pelfrey to start the game.

Tommy Joseph will start again at first base after clobbering his second homer of the season on Monday. Despite another night of immense struggles (see story), Ryan Howard is again in the lineup as the designated hitter in the American League park.

The only change to to the lineup from Monday see Carlos Ruiz starting behind the plate to catch Jeremy Hellickson.

Star outfielder Justin Upton will sit again for Detroit as he nurses a quad injury. Mike Aviles will start in his place in left.

Both teams' lineups can be found below.

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Carlos Ruiz C
7. Cesar Hernandez 2B
8. Tyler Goedell LF
9. Peter Bourjos RF

Tigers
1. Ian Kinsler 2B
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez RF
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Cameron Maybin CF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
8. Mike Aviles LF
9. Jose Iglesias SS 

Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

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Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

Anyone who follows the NFL knows to avoid reading too much into spring workouts. You don't gain valuable insight into a player's game-day ability by observing his speed in shorts or run-stuffing technique when tackles aren't being made.

First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sidestepped several questions after Tuesday's OTA about how specific players are fitting into his defensive scheme, but he made an exception for one position group in particular: his starting safeties.

The Eagles this offseason spent $35 million apiece to extend Malcolm Jenkins and sign Rodney McLeod away from the Rams. Jenkins got $21 million guaranteed, McLeod got $17 million, and they rank fifth and ninth among NFL safeties, respectively, in annual average salary.

"That was money well spent," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I'm sort of violating my rule of judging too much into this time of year — saying linemen need the pads on before we can judge, rookies let's not judge yet — but both [Jenkins and McLeod] are veteran players. And you can see that right away that both are multi-dimensional. They communicate very well, cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man (coverage), they can play zone. I'd be very surprised as the year went along if they're not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They've been very impressive so far."

Jenkins, who has emerged as the Eagles' most vocal leader, is coming off two terrific seasons. He set career-highs last year in tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three), intercepted two passes and returned one 99 yards for a touchdown. He graded out as the best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. 

McLeod ranked 10th, eight spots ahead of Walter Thurmond, Jenkins' partner last season.

"I think we all believe that," Jenkins said when asked about the safety duo's chances of being one of the NFL's best. "The way that practice has been going so far and just what Rodney adds to the secondary, I think we're real excited about that tandem and what we'll be able to do. Both of us are very versatile, both of us know the defense and can get guys lined up and can problem-solve. All the rest of it we can do, but when you have guys that can quarterback the defense and problem-solve, it gets you out of a lot of bad looks."

Jenkins had watched McLeod on tape so he knew the type of player the Eagles were adding. What stood out most to him was how "violent" McLeod played in St. Louis, how he played much bigger than his 5-10/195-pound frame. But what's impressed Jenkins most in OTAs with McLeod is how he sees the field and reads situations. Those instincts are what Jenkins thinks can make the pairing special.

"Now playing next to him, you really start to see the smarts and his football IQ, knowing different defenses, ways to adjust things, having the ability to use tools for different situations," Jenkins said of McLeod. "He's an extension of a coach on the field. Talk about a guy being able to quarterback your defense on the field, he's somebody who understands the totality of the defense and has that ability to communicate and get guys lined up. It's just good to have two guys back there now that can do that.

"I think from what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table from a football standpoint, I think our talent level can put us in that conversation (of the NFL's top safety tandems). But once we really get in tune with each other as far as calls, tools that we can use ... when you got two guys with high football IQs, you can really be special."

Jenkins and McLeod have been playing left and right safety interchangeably so far in practice. McLeod says that this voluntary workout period for the safeties has been about figuring out which of them does what better. He'll have a better idea of their specific roles once training camp comes.

Jenkins and McLeod were in constant communication on the sidelines after coming off the field for certain plays at Tuesday's practice. Jenkins was doing a lot of the talking and McLeod a lot of the listening. McLeod would explain what he saw and why he broke the way he did, and Jenkins would coach him up and advise him what to do next time they see a certain look. 

"Big competitor, man. Just from Day 1, offseason drills and things like that when we compete, even in the weight room you can just see how he gets after it," McLeod said of Jenkins. "It carries over into the field, big trash talker. He carries a swagger about him. Very smart and instinctive player.

"Me and Malcolm, I think we're gonna build something great here and you can see glimpses of it in practice now."

Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

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Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

The Philadelphia 76ers haven't found themselves in a position of power much on the hardwood over the past few seasons, but when it comes to the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sixers are in the driver's seat.

As longtime NBA reporter David Aldridge put it in a column on Monday, the Sixers are one of four teams that will "run the show" on draft night. The Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Phoenix Suns are all poised for a big draft night as well.

Not only do the Sixers have the first gigantic decision of the evening but they have a handful of assets, in the form of additional picks as well as moveable players, to make another big splash on draft night (Thanks, Sam Hinkie).

The first debate in Philly will clearly be Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Once that decision is made though, things could still be very interesting for Bryan Colangelo.

Aldridge goes on to discuss the logjam in the Sixers frontcourt that Sixers' observers have been talking about forever, but he also adds that, "There is strong support within the organization for Nerlens Noel, who provides defense and rebounding that none of Philly's other bigs provide."

Not only does Aldridge state that there is strong support for Noel, he also says that the team would like to get back up into the early portion of the draft.

Yet the Sixers already have Okafor at the four, and possibly Saric next year. Taking Simmons wouldn't make sense unless they were determined to trade Okafor, whose up and down rookie season hasn't adversely affected his value around the league. And trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick, which the Sixers covet.

Coveting another high first-round pick and actually obtaining it are clearly different things. Unless the front office finds a way to put a package together involving the 24th or 26th picks this year and some sort of future considerations, the player who can certainly get you back near the front of this year's draft is clearly Jahlil Okafor.

The Sixers fan base is mixed on the idea of trading Jahlil Okafor. Boston seems like an obvious fit with their No. 3 overall pick being the prized target.

June 23rd will be a very interesting night to see how Bryan Colangelo, his father, Josh Harris, and his co-owners feel about such a deal.