Final Thoughts Heading into Eagles’ First Preseason Game

Final Thoughts Heading into Eagles’ First Preseason Game

Like many fans I’m sure, this is the most excited I can remember being for a preseason game EVER. Some might say 2004, the year Terrell Owens arrived and the Eagles had already punched their ticket for the Super Bowl in March. It could have been ’99, Andy Reid’s and Donovan McNabb’s first year in Philadelphia. Maybe there was some other much-ballyhooed exhibition game from decades ago that escapes me or I’m simply not familiar with.

Tonight is going to be very tough to beat in my humble opinion. It’s not just the first game of a new era in Eagles history. It’s a head coach billed as a genius, a revolutionary, bringing an offense, concepts, and philosophies to the NFL that perhaps have all been implemented to some degree before, but never combined into one package, or their application this advanced in some cases. That is the likely impossible standard Chip Kelly is being asked to live up to, and we’re going to get our first glimpse into what’s true and what’s myth tonight.

Ordinarily I’d probably push out some generic “Who to Watch” column for a preseason opener, but the reality is that’s everybody and everything. There’s no one person or aspect you should key on, maybe with exception to the quarterbacks. Go in to your viewing experience with an open mind and let something jump out at you. Trust me, it won’t take long.

Then the fun stuff happens. We’ll finally have some tape of Chip’s Eagles, not to mention guys will finally be hitting, tackling, and all-around going 100%. Afterwards we’ll be able to go back and do some more in-depth player evaluations and examine the offensive and defensive schemes – really looking forward to this the most.

In the meantime, let’s kill a few minutes here and look at a few big stories floating around the Birds ahead of tonight’s game.

Has Chip already chosen a starting quarterback?

I doubt it. Many people still seem stuck in the Joe Banner/Andy Reid days, a leadership that would be hesitant to confirm or deny their quarterbacks even existed. We watched as they intimated Donovan McNabb was not going to be traded, and then he was gone. We listened when it was announced Kevin Kolb was still the starter, only to learn the next day it would be Michael Vick.

We can be distrustful of our leaders in general, but we really have no reason to be with Chip. He’s leveled with us 100% of the way as best I can tell, so if he says he hasn’t made a decision about the quarterbacks, and wants so badly for us to believe it that he’ll alternate starts and series these next two weeks, I see no reason not to.

Frankly, if he did have someone in mind, what he is doing would be a terrible strategy, no? If he knows, let that person get most of the reps already. When Chip says he needs to see Vick and Nick Foles in games before he can pick one, and all the evidence points to the premise that the open competition is ongoing, I feel compelled to take him on his word.

Is the Birds’ secondary historically bad?

I don’t see why there is an expectation it would be any worse than last year. Nnamdi Asomugha was a flat bust, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only played when he wanted to – which was not at all once it was obvious things were going south. And the safeties had practically unreal responsibilities in Jim Washburn’s/Juan Castillo’s/Todd Bowles’ scheme, sort of first responders if you will against the opposing team’s ground attack.

Provided guys stay healthy, there is no reason why some combination of Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin won’t be an improvement over last year’s corners, who I don’t need to remind you were terrible. They may not have the resumes of an Asomugha or DRC – Pro Bowlers and high draft picks – but they are all out there to play football. Nothing is being handed to these three. There is no complacency. That alone should make them better.

Simplifying things for the safeties will go a long way toward helping that unit as well. I’m not sure how much of an improvement free agents Patrick Chung (consistency) or Kenny Phillips (injury) will be over what was here, but one would think allowing the Nate Allens and Kurt Colemans to play a more conventional style will make either one look more competent. I mean, Brian Dawkins probably couldn’t have thrived in the last system.

Do I think the Eagles have a quality secondary? Eh, that certainly remains to be seen, and a lot of that will be reliant to some degree on how effective the front seven is at pressuring the quarterback. However, I wouldn’t anticipate the defensive backfield getting worse.

Will the Eagles be worse this year than last?

Anything is possible, but that won’t be easy. Derek from Iggles Blog wrote a thoughtful piece on why the club could actually take a step back in Chip Kelly’s first season, invoking Jimmy Johnson’s debut for the Cowboys in which Big D finished 1-15. To be honest, he really had me going there for a little while.

Again, we can’t rule that out completely, but the landscape in the NFL was also far different 25 years ago than it is today. There wasn’t as much parity in 1989. It would take years for an organization to build a competitive program, and once they reached that level, they were probably there to stay for awhile. That period in pro football history was dominated by a select few – the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants, the Washington Redskins, the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills, and ultimately the Cowboys.

Due to free agency and the salary cap however, it’s almost unusual for one franchise to sustain that kind of success. The flip side to that is it’s far easier to crawl out from the cellar as well. Every year there is an average of six new entrants in the playoffs. That may not be the Birds in 2013, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for upward mobility.

The Eagles may have gone 4-12 last season – which by the way, it’s really difficult to sink any lower – but that was with three major injuries to their offensive line, a defense that quit halfway into the year, a bunch of malcontents poisoning the locker room, and a head coach whose message was growing stale. That team had some holes, too, and admittedly not all of them were able to be filled in one offseason. There was quite a bit of talent on that team though, much of it still here today.

I suppose we’ll see. As the saying goes, that’s why they play the games. And, yes, I do tend to err on the side of optimism. For at least one day though, I feel every person who follows the Eagles should have some reason to be optimistic. Tonight is like running down the steps on Christmas morning and tearing the wrapping paper off the biggest present under the tree. Who knows how soon the shine will wear off your new toy, but it’s still shiny and new today.

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Give and Go: No. 3 pick or an impact free agent more important for Sixers?

Before the offseason craziness starts, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato and producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

In this edition, we analyze whether the No. 3 pick or adding an impact free agent is more important for the Sixers.

Camerato
The Sixers have the third pick in the 2017 draft. 
 
They also had the same pick in 2014. 
 
And 2015. 
 
And the number one pick in 2016.
 
The No. 3 is a nice addition of potential young talent, but how much further does *another* high lottery pick progress the Sixers?
 
The team is at a point where they need more experienced players to boost the development of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric … and basically everyone on the roster except Jerryd Bayless, who is the only player under contract for next season with more than four years of NBA experience.
 
Veterans make younger players around them better. This isn’t only being a voice in the locker room either. This season the Sixers could greatly benefit from a vet who is in game with them, not just on the bench. Look at what 35-year-old Joe Johnson did for the Jazz this season. 
 
Do the Sixers need to go out and sign a big name free agent to a max contract? No. They have the money to spend but also a lot of questions to answer about Simmons’ role and Embiid’s health before locking in someone long-term. 
 
Can adding experience develop them further than potential would at this point? Yes.

Haughton
There's always a delicate balance between blending homegrown talent and free agents. With this Sixers team, I think adding another young piece to the core with the No. 3 pick is far more important than luring someone on the free-agent market.

If we're being honest about the team's roster, there are only two real difference makers in Embiid and, in all likelihood, Simmons. In that third draft slot, the Sixers have an opportunity to select yet another top-tier talent and address an area of need (guard or wing) without spending a boatload of cash.

The Sixers' youthful makeup resembles a college team and makes it easier for rookies to mix into the group. That also means the draft pick has a chance to grow on the same track as his teammates and build for the long-term betterment of "The Process" instead of a free agent that is likely trying to speed things up to win now.

Speaking of FAs, there will be a nice pool of guys available for the Sixers. However, it's not like any of them are going to put the team over the top and in the conversation for any postseason hardware.

Stick to the script and focus on the draft. Whichever player hears his name called at No. 3 will have a far bigger fingerprint on where this franchise goes next than anyone acquired via free agency.

Hudrick
The Sixers have identified Embiid and Simmons as their franchise players. Embiid is 23 and Simmons will turn 21 in July. Embiid has played in 31 games and Simmons has yet to take the floor.

I mention this because this Sixers team is still very much building. They're nowhere near a finished product. The veteran additions of Gerald Henderson and Bayless (who was limited to mostly a mentoring role last season) no doubt helped the team last season. But what does signing a marquee free agent do? 

Looking at the market, the two most obvious choices are point guard Kyle Lowry (31) and two guard J.J. Redick (32). Lowry and Redick both fills needs and will make the Sixers better immediately. 

But this team won 28 games last year while only having Embiid for 31 games and not having Simmons at all. Add the No. 3 overall pick to that equation -- whether it's Josh Jackson, Malik Monk, Jayson Tatum or De'Aaron Fox -- and the Sixers should improve on that mark.

There will be a time to sign a big-name free agent. I'm just not sure this is the offseason to do it. They need to get their first-round pick in here and see how that player gels with the team's core. After you see how the team starts to take shape, that's when you need to add a free agent to put you over the top.

Tonight's lineup: Howie Kendrick returns, Odubel Herrera rides the pine

Tonight's lineup: Howie Kendrick returns, Odubel Herrera rides the pine

Updated: 4:33 p.m.

Howie Kendrick is back after a month and a half on the disabled list while Odubel Herrera is heading to the bench for a few days.

The Phillies reinstated Kendrick from the DL and he's in the lineup, batting second and playing left field vs. the Marlins (7:10/CSN and CSNPhilly.com). Meanwhile, manager Pete Mackanin said pregame slumping center fielder Odubel Herrera will be on the bench both today and tomorrow. Maikel Franco was moved down further in the lineup.

Kendrick batted a sterling .333 in his 39 at-bats in April, looking the part of a top-of-the-order hitter. The former infielder played only left field during his 10 games before going down with an oblique injury (see game notes). He gives the Phillies a chance to rest their outfielders or allow them a new look in the corner infield. 

Herrera is in the midst of a 1-for-22 slide that has brought his batting average down to .217. Mackanin said postgame on Sunday that he would move Herrera down in the lineup and would give him a few days off at some point with Kendrick back as an extra outfielder. Mackanin hoped time off would help lessen the pressure on the scuffling Herrera.

Mackanin also mentioned the inconsistent at-bats of Franco, who is down to seventh in the lineup. Catcher Cameron Rupp was moved ahead of him to sixth in the order with Franco batting .213 and going 2 for 18 since his eight-game hitting streak ended on Monday.

Jeremy Hellickson makes his first start since allowing a seven-run third inning to the Rockies on Wednesday. The good news for the righty is that he dominated the Marlins last season and was similiarly strong in a victory vs. the Fish in April.

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Edinson Volquez:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Aaron Altherr, CF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Maikel Franco, 3B
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P