Around the NFC East: Asomugha to Dallas?

Around the NFC East: Asomugha to Dallas?

If the Birds plan to make a serious run at the premiere free agent of 2011, as many observers suspect they will, they may face some competition in their own division. Rainer Sabin with the Dallas Morning News suggests the Cowboys will consider taking the plunge into the Nnamdi Asomugha market, both out of necessity and in an attempt to keep him away from a rival.

It's no secret the Eagles have something of a crater at one of their cornerback spots, and Asomugha is one of the best in the business. The franchise is also no stranger to major free agent signings, and they have the budget to make a splash this off-season.
We've been connecting the dots since January.

What we haven't discussed so much is the fact that there are other teams out there that wouldn't mind acquiring an Asomugha, and Dallas certainly could be one of them. Terence Newman is getting up there in years, and neither Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick have proven to be consistently shutdown. Jerry Jones isn't afraid to spend, either.

It's worth noting the Eagles were thought to be interested in DE Julius Peppers last year. The Bears, motivated by their lack of draft picks, and aided by not having to pay those players, eventually outbid the field with an outrageous offer.

Sabin's theory is just that, a theory, and maybe the Cowboys aren't interested at all (yeah, right), or they can't fit him into their budget (yeah, right). The Eagles are almost certainly interested though, and it won't hurt to have a division rival potentially lighting a fire under their asses.

Vince Young to Washington?

While Donovan McNabb technically remains a member of the Redskins, he's on his way out soon enough, and neither Rex Grossman or John Beck are what you would consider building blocks. They passed on the opportunity to go quarterback with the 10th overall pick, so it makes you wonder who really will be under center in our nation's capital this season.

One interesting thought, as introduced by Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun-Sentinel, is Vince Young could be an option for Washington. Observers anticipate the Titans cutting the former third overall pick once the new league year begins, before he earns a sizeable roster bonus. Teams looking for an immediate starter with some upside might be inclined to go for this reclamation project.

Personally, I'm not sure VY couldn't make some noise if dropped in the right situation. His numbers really aren't that bad. While his completion percentage has dipped below 60% the past two seasons, everything else is improved; he's thrown 20 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over that timespan, and last season he finished with a career high 98.6 passer rating. Most impressive of all, the Titans were 30-17 in games Young started, and this without the benefit of a number one receiver for the majority of his career.

He's not somebody you want to see breaking the opposing team's huddle on Sunday, and under Mike Shanahan, there is no telling what Young's ceiling could be. There are some leadership issues there, and he's battled injuries, but he has all the physical tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL, not to mention tremendous mobility.

Like the Asomugha rumor, it's pure conjecture. Again though, when you look at the simple facts that the Redskins need a starting quarterback, and their availability is limited, this makes some sense.

Danny Watkins or Cameron Jordan?

Last week, we listed some of the players the Eagles passed on in the draft, at least a couple of whom would have been high on many fans' wishlists. Yet another prospect still available when the Birds picked at 23, Cal's Cameron Jordan (6-4, 283), was recently spoken for by one of the all-time greats, Mr. Ray Didinger.

"My question was the value at that point in the draft: Would Jordan, an explosive pass rusher, have more impact than Watkins, a guard?"

A commenter once said to me something along the lines of, "Didinger is not the end-all, be-all on all things Eagles football," because I would cite his work so frequently when making my own point. Well, for once I actually disagree with the Hall of Famer, namely that Jordan is an explosive pass rusher.

Really, he is? I admit I'm no college football scout, but the statistics suggest something entirely different. Jordan amassed just 5.5 sacks in his senior season, falling short of a career-high 6 set in his junior season. All told, Jordan had 17 sacks total in four seasons, with one forced fumble.

Obviously stats don't tell the whole story, and there is a reason why Jordan went to the Saints with the very next pick. Scouts think his game will translate well at the next level. That being said, his game has never been that of an "explosive pass rusher," and while that certainly is a need, I'm not sure I agree Jordan was the player who fit the bill.

Giants Draft Overview

When Nebraska CB Prince Amukumara was finally selected with the 19th pick, one detail that may have gone slightly overlooked is the Giants were the fortunate club that won the sweepstakes.

Two seasons ago, the Eagles torched New York for 85 points combined in their two meetings. Since then, the Gmen have focused their efforts on reinventing their defense. Amukamara joins last year's big free agent acquisition FS Antrell Rolle as two frontline additions to a secondary that includes the very reliable CB Terrell Thomas and former first rounder SS Kenny Phillips. That group could become exceptionally difficult to throw against.

The Giants weren't finished with defense there, grabbing North Carolina DT Marvin Austin (6-2, 309) in the second round. Austin was kicked off the team in 2010 over contact with an agent, but he is an impressive talent and adds to a deep defensive line that includes a pair of All-Pro defensive ends, and last year's first round pick, DE Jason Pierre-Paul.

Overall, the Giants have invested a lot of high draft picks and money in their defense the past couple years, and figure to match up with the Birds' athleticism better than the rest of the division going forward.

>> Fear of Asomugha landing in Philly could motivate Cowboys [Dallas News]
>> What's chirping: How can Miami Dolphins land a QB? [Sun-Sentinel]
>> Didinger's Eagles Mailbag: Examining the picks [CSN]

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

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Photo: Dave Zeitlin

Penn star receiver Justin Watson ready to keep doing it all in 2016

As Penn football players spread out around Franklin Field to take photos and do interviews for the program’s annual media day, Justin Watson hung by the track, playing a quick game of tag near the hurdles.

“Come and get me, J-Wat!” cried out Vhito DeCapria, the precocious 5-year-old cancer patient the team adopted last year through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and who’s now back for his “sophomore” season.

Watson, known as “J-Wat” to most, smiled and played along. Being Vhito’s favorite player is just one of the many hats he wears. He’s also one of the team’s hardest-working, smartest and most versatile players — and he enters his junior season as perhaps the top wide receiver in the Ivy League, if not the entire FCS.

“Does he do anything to surprise me?” senior quarterback Alec Torgersen said from media day Monday. “Not anymore. He did at the beginning when he first got here. But now it’s just expected of him. I expect him to make those crazy one-handed grabs. I expect him to catch every ball I throw to him. When he doesn’t, I get disappointed.”

Torgersen has had plenty of opportunities to throw Watson passes — and not only last season when the star receiver caught 74 balls (fourth all-time at Penn) for 1,087 yards (second all-time) and nine touchdowns (third all-time). Throughout the summer, the two friends worked together at the same internship downtown. They ate lunch together every day and, at 5 p.m., they hopped on a subway back to Franklin Field, where they worked out in the weight room and practiced back-shoulder fades and option routes.

“A lot of college quarterbacks and receivers can’t have that type of chemistry but I think us being here all summer really helped,” Watson said. “It’s been cool doing that. It’s a special thing that’s definitely going to help us in the fall.”

In truth, Watson is actually more than just a receiver. Last season, he was also used on running plays, gaining 154 yards on the ground, including a 79-yard scamper that sealed Penn’s huge upset at Harvard. Watson finished with a staggering 249 all-purpose yards that day at Harvard Stadium, helping the Quakers win the game that effectively led to them sharing a piece of the Ivy League title. And he said he was all set to play another position by taking direct snaps in the team’s regular-season finale vs. Cornell before getting hurt.

“The uniqueness about Justin is not only his talent and skill on the field but his football IQ,” second-year head coach Ray Priore said. “During the course of the year, he in theory played every skill position on offense. And he didn’t even blink an eye doing it. That’s a special characteristic.”

Priore laughed when asked if he can find more ways to utilize Watson in 2016 but said he won’t put him back on kick returns, “which he probably could do.” He will, however, play safety when the Quakers line up in their “victory defense” at the end of games, “so you may see an interception.”

Watson says he’s ready for anything.

“That’s so much fun,” he said. “When you’re a kid in middle school, that’s what you do. It’s awesome to be back doing that. Anything I can do to help us win, I’ll do it, whether it’s running back or receiver. I don’t think they’ll let me throw it at quarterback after seeing my arm. But anything else I’m definitely willing and ready to do.”

In the end, though, playing receiver is what Watson loves most, saying that catching a deep ball — and hearing the crowd “hold their breath when the ball’s in the air and then erupt” — is his favorite thing as a football player. It’s also his skills as a receiver that has him earning so much attention heading into Penn’s opener vs. Lehigh on Sept. 17. Among his preseason accolades, the junior was named one of 22 players on the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List — the only Ivy Leaguer to receive such an honor.

But if all of his records and accolades leads to opposing defenses paying more attention to him, Watson isn’t worried. That’s because he knows the team’s other receivers like fifth-year senior Cam Countryman and sophomore Christian Pearson are more than capable of having big years too.

“If you put two guys on me, we’ve got a bunch of other great receivers who will be open and will kill you down the field,” Watson said. “If I’ve got to take two or three guys every game, we’ll be 10-0 because I know everyone else will be making plays.”

It’s that kind of selflessness that has endeared Watson to his teammates, who enjoy the energy he brings to practice and how he always seems to be the first player in the training room.

“He’s an incredible player,” said Countryman, one of Penn’s leaders. “I have the utmost respect for him. When he came in his freshman year, you noticed right away the talent he had. So all of the accomplishments that he gets, I’m not surprised at all. 

“And they’ll keep coming in.”

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Following a shutout, Phillies get to face Max Scherzer

Phillies (60-71) vs. Nationals (76-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies couldn't hit in Monday's series opener, but they did receive the positive of Jake Thompson finally looking like he can get outs at the big-league level. Thompson allowed two runs over seven innings, but the Phils were blanked by Tanner Roark for the third time this season.

The task Tuesday night is no easier.

1. Due vs. Scherzer?
When the Phillies face Max Scherzer, you can essentially chalk it up as an automatic loss. The Phils are one of the weaker offenses, Scherzer is one of the game's best pitchers, and his track record against them is nearly flawless.

Scherzer (14-7, 2.92) has faced the Phillies eight times since 2013. He's 6-0 with 1.74 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP, with 62 strikeouts and 10 walks in 57 innings. 

Scherzer had some early missteps this season, caused mostly by home runs, but he's been incredible since the middle of May, when he tied a MLB record with 20 strikeouts in a game. Since that game, he's 11-5 with a 2.40 ERA and .172 opponents' batting average in 20 starts. He's struck out 181 and walked 29 in those 139 innings. Ridiculous. Otherworldly.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they'll be seeing a lot of Scherzer moving forward. He's in the second of a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract with the Nationals that, to this point, he's lived up to.

Scherzer has a blazing fastball and a disappearing breaking ball. He throws strike after strike after strike, which is ironically what gets him into trouble at times. Like Cliff Lee, Scherzer is around the plate so often that hitters tend to attack his early fastballs. The result is a lot of solo home runs. But Scherzer has even corrected that issue of late, allowing just five homers over his last 11 starts.

2. Learn from Herrera
Odubel Herrera has had by far the most success of any active Phillie vs. Scherzer. He's 6 for 19 with a double, a triple and five walks. There are only six players in baseball with at least 20 plate appearances against Scherzer and an on-base percentage higher than Herrera's .458.

Herrera had a multi-hit game Monday, his fourth in his last eight contests. He's hitting .283/.361/.413 in 540 plate appearances this season, providing pretty much the same offense he did a year ago. But still, the Phillies would like to see more consistency from Herrera over the season's final month. His OBP had declined every month this year until August.

Phils manager Pete Mackanin said on Monday that Herrera will remain in center field the rest of the season. Mackanin had indicated several weeks ago that Herrera would see some time in the corner outfield to allow the organization to get a look at Aaron Altherr and perhaps even Roman Quinn in center field in September, but that's no longer the plan. Quinn is on the concussion DL at Double A, and the Phillies don't want to move Herrera around or do anything to affect his confidence at this point.

It still seems likely that Herrera will end up at a different position in the future because the Phillies have better defensive centerfielders.

3. Their steadiest starter
Jerad Eickhoff tonight makes his 27th start of 2016 and 35th career start for the Phillies. He's 9-12 with a 3.87 ERA this season and 12-15 with a 3.57 ERA in his career.

Eickhoff is coming off yet another quality start, his 14th. He's pitched at least six innings in 17 of his 25 starts. 

Strange as it is, Eickhoff has faced the division-rival Nationals only once in his career so far. He allowed two runs to them over seven innings with 10 strikeouts in his penultimate start last season.

Eickhoff has been much better this season at home (3.27 ERA) than on the road (4.56).

4. A night for small ball
One of the Phillies' goals this season was to manufacture runs because they don't have a ton of power. That will be especially necessary tonight against Scherzer, who's shut down every Phils hitter with pop.

Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp are a combined 5 for 31 (.161) off Scherzer. Ryan Howard, who's unlikely to play, is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Herrera has gotten on base with regularity against him, and Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 18 with a double. Herrera and Hernandez will need to reach base and run tonight. Scherzer, however, does a better job than most aces of controlling the running game. He's allowed just 11 steals on 14 attempts in 60 starts with the Nationals.

5. This and that
• A loss tonight would put the Phillies 12 games under .500. Their record hasn't been that bad since June 27, which was 53 games ago.

• The Phils are 6-12 against the NL East since the All-Star break.

• It would have been difficult for Jayson Werth to play up to the seven-year, $126 million contract he got with the Nationals after 2010, but when you look back at his tenure in Washington he's had only two bad years out of six. In more than 3,000 plate appearances with the Nats, Werth has hit .269/.361/.442 for an .803 OPS that is 18 percent better than the league average over that span.

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

Phillies shut out, but Jake Thompson's best start yet and kudos to that one fan

You knew it probably wasn't going to be a very good night for the Phillies after Jayson Werth led off the game with a home run for the Washington Nationals. After the smarting blow from our former WFC RF, the Nats picked up another run to go up 2-0 in the first, and that was plenty for the NL East leaders on a windy Monday night in Philly. The Fightins managed just four hits, one walk, and zero runs worth of offense, and Tanner Roark and the Nats shut 'em out, 4-0, for the series opener. (That's Werth's 18th homer against the Phils, btw — one off his single-opponent high of 19 against the Braves, and in about 60 fewer games.)

Luckily, the night wasn't a complete wash for the Phils: We got our best start yet — indeed, the first one that would likely qualify as "good" — from young righty starter Jake Thompson, who buckled down after the two first-inning runs, and went six scoreless from there. (Thompson had yet to pitch more than three consecutive innings without an earned run in his four starts to date.) The starter's finest inning was his last, where he notched all three of his strikeouts on the evening, including a particular beauty dropped in for a third strike on an incredulous Trea Turner to close the frame. For a 22-year-old pitcher whose early-career issues are often said to be more mental than mechanical, it could be a huge confidence boost to come through like that against one of the best offenses in the NL.

Meanwhile, the other hero for the Phils tonight came in the guise of a fan sitting on the first-base line, who responded to a Frank Herrmann pickoff overthrow by reflexively cleanly fielding the ball as it bounced near the seats. The fan-interference got Nats third-baseman Anthony Rendon, who was well on his way to third base, called back to second, incensing Washington manager Dusty Baker and earning the fan a good deal of high-fives from the fans in his section. He got booted from the stadium — and Rendon was rewarded third base anyway after Baker's challenge was supported by replay — but y'know. No one can say dude didn't do what he could, and that's all anyone can ask of a real fan.

Jerad Eickhoff vs. Max Scherzer at 7:00 tonight. Still just 9.5 games out of the second wild-card spot.