Bird Droppings: Controversies and Non-Controversies at Eagles Training Camp

Bird Droppings: Controversies and Non-Controversies at Eagles Training Camp

Perhaps the most overblown story of the offseason so far is about the NFL’s V.P. of officiating coming down on up-tempo offenses like what the Eagles plan to run under Chip Kelly this season. Let’s hear what he has to say:

“We have to make sure teams understand that they don't control the tempo, our officials do,” said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “We're going through our normal ball mechanics; we aren't going to rush [unless] it's in the two minute drill.”

Okay, so number one, this statement doesn’t appear to be directed strictly at the Eagles even though Kevin Clark makes it about the Eagles for the Wall Street Journal. What people should realize is Chip did not invent the up-tempo offense. In fact, this has already been a source of tension between the league and New England Patriots and Peyton Manning in years past, as both have been running no-huddle or up-tempo offenses for years. Why would anybody, including Chip Kelly, expect the rules to be any different for the Eagles?

The whole angle is a reach in my opinion. Kelly told reporters at practice on Wednesday that he is aware of the rules and his team will play as fast as they allow – just like the Patriots, Manning, and everyone else in the NFL. The fact that the officials chose this offseason for a refresher on the rules was probably a coincidence. Regardless, I don’t expect it to make much of a difference, as both of these other examples have proven they are able to own tempo and use that to their advantage against opponents every week.

Tackling, or lack thereof

What isn’t a manufactured controversy at Eagles training camp on the other hand is the conspicuous absence of tackling. Kelly admitted there would be no tackling to the ground during the team’s 11-on-11 drills, and they are saving that for the preseason.

In certain other camps this might not be as big a story, but the Eagles have been a bad tackling team for years. It’s fair to question how they intend to improve in that aspect of the game if it’s not practiced during live periods. Chip offered his take on Monday.

“We have four preseason games for that. They're hitting pretty good when they get an opportunity. The big thing with tackling, you want to be on your feet anyway. We don't want people diving. We want a good form tackle so they get an opportunity. In the first team period we do every day, we're going to be doing that.”

...

“When you get guys on the ground, it is not really the two guys that get tackled, it's what's chasing it. We're trying to keep everybody in every situation up. If I'm blocking my guy and I'm trying to finish to the whistle, two guys in front of me fell, that's where the biggest thing occurs. It's the pileups. Most of the time it's not the tackle or the tackler, it's the rest of the guys coming through.”

So it’s one part avoiding injury, one part teaching better form, which is interesting. He probably has a point about players lunging at the ball carrier, which often results in missed or broken tackles, and we’ve seen can also end in injuries to the defender’s head and neck area.

Not everybody on the outside is going to buy that, which is understandable. As Chip mentioned though, the Eagles are working on tackling in a separate drill for a few minutes each day, so it’s not as if there is none at all. This decision is going to attract a fair amount of skepticism until they show signs of improvement in some game situations.

Forgiven, not forgotten

Just to follow up on the Riley Cooper scandal, not all of his teammates will simply go back to normal after video of the wide receiver using a racial slur came to light. As you can imagine, it was still the hot topic at camp on Thursday, less than 24 hours removed from the 25-year-old’s apology.

For now it seems like this is going to be a bigger issue with how teammates and fans in Philadelphia view Cooper more than anything related to X’s and O’s. The league apparently is not going to punish him, nor does the organization seem to have any plans to release him. And while the Eagles’ locker room isn’t simply going to forget, so far they all say they are trying to move on.

There is some concern this situation could create some division in the locker room, which is not something Chip Kelly needed in his first season as head coach, or what anybody anywhere needed for that matter. I’m not sure we’ll know one way or the other until somebody speaks out publicly against Cooper. That’s not happening so far, but he’s not exactly getting rave reviews, either.

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

Robert Covington, Sixers show 'swagger' without Joel Embiid in comeback win

BOX SCORE

The Sixers began the season looking lost without Joel Embiid. Now they are finding ways to win when he is not on the court. 

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion in the second half of Friday’s 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see story). He was sidelined for the decisive 8:50 of the game (see Instant Replay).

The Sixers trailed, 81-78, when he subbed out for the second time because of the injury, and outscored the Trail Blazers, 15-11, from that point on.

So how was this team that battled with inconsistency and reliance on Embiid able to pull out a comeback win punctuated in the final seconds? Ask the Sixers and they’ll give varying answers, a sign they are getting the job done in multiple ways and aren’t relying on just one key to success.

The most glaring difference was the hero of the game. Robert Covington drained two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds. His trey from Dario Saric with 38.2 remaining cut the Trail Blazers' lead to just one, 91-90. With 4.5 to go, he nailed the game-winning three from T.J. McConnell to give the Sixers their eighth victory in 10 games (see feature highlight).

“That’s resilient Cov,” Nerlens Noel said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a good shot or a bad shot; he’ll pull it in your face. That’s the confidence he has and that’s the confidence we need him to have. He steps up and makes two big shots like that, that’s enough said. He won us that game.”

Critics have called out Covington’s up-and-down performance from three all season. (They’ve made their feelings known with loud boos at home games.) Covington shot 5 for 12 behind the arc on the night but his 2 for 3 performance in the fourth was what mattered most. 

“I am a fighter, that’s what I have been my whole life,” he said. “Just because fans are booing me at one point doesn't mean anything. I just keep working. I am not going to let that deteriorate my game. It goes in one ear and out the other.”

Without Embiid in the game, the Sixers had to rely on a total team effort. After he went to the bench, the final points were scored by a combination of Covington, Gerald Henderson, Noel, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and McConnell.

“Ball movement,” head coach Brett Brown said. “We had 25 assists out of 36 made baskets. It’s not like we’re going to give the ball to Damian Lillard (guard for the Blazers). That’s not who we are. Whatever we do, it has to be done by committee, by a group, by a team. It’s even more exposed when Joel isn’t in the game. They did that. Unlikely people ended up with the ball sometimes in unlikely spots. … You have to move the ball. That’s what the team has learned without Joel.” 

Several of the players on the court in critical moments were from the second unit. Since Brown locked in on his rotation, the reserves don’t have a drop-off in confidence from the starters. 

“It’s the mentality,” Covington said. “Everybody has that swagger about us right now because once Joel comes out, the next person steps in and fills that void. It’s a matter of that contagious feeling that trickles into the second unit that’s making us that much more valuable.”

Then there's always defense, the foundation of any solid NBA team and a focal point for the Sixers. Noel saw that as the difference-maker when subbing in and out. The Trail Blazers scored just two points in the final 1:56. 

"The second unit goes there and does a great job guarding the yard, not letting up easy baskets," Noel said. "The offensive side is fluid motion. Guys get shots, pick-and-roll, it opens up open threes for guys, driving lines, pump fakes, it’s a great unity."

Embiid liked what he saw from a distance. He will not travel with the team to their game on Saturday against the Hawks in Atlanta. 

"I’m just happy we’ve been closing out games, and the main thing I’m really happy [about] is they’ve been able to do it without me," he said. "That’s going to give us a lot of confidence when I’m missing back-to-backs. My teammates are going to have more confidence to come in and play the same way."

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Joel Embiid feels 'great' after injury scare to left knee

Of the nearly 20,000 people in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, Joel Embiid was seemingly the least concerned when he came down and injured his left knee. 

Fans held their breath and the Sixers looked on anxiously as the standout big man got up in visible discomfort and limped off the court (see highlights). Embiid, however, wasn’t worried. 

“I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way,” he said after the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers (see Instant Replay). “I’m great. The knee’s fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good.”

Embiid ran off the court on his own, was diagnosed with a left knee contusion and was cleared to return to the game. He aggravated his knee again driving to the basket and this time, the team held him out to be careful.

“The review is that he hyperextended his left knee,” head coach Brett Brown said. “There was a minor tweak again, and for precautionary reasons only, the doctors did not allow him to return. There will be more information given as we know it. But quickly, that's what we know.”

Embiid understood the team’s decision to sideline him for the final 8:50 while the Sixers went on a comeback run (see feature highlight). He still finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, five assists and four blocks in only 22 minutes.

“Obviously those guys, the front office, they care about my future, so they just shut it down,” Embiid said. “But I was fine.”

Embiid will not travel to Atlanta for Saturday’s game against the Hawks (pre-scheduled rest). He expects to be available for Tuesday’s home matchup against the Clippers. 

"You know how tough he is," Nerlens Noel said. "If it isn’t anything serious, he’ll be right back. At the end of the game, he was telling me was he was feeling great and there was no pain. He wanted to come back in the game … he’s a trooper. He always gives it his all and always plays hard."

Injuries to any player are worrisome, especially a franchise centerpiece with two years of rehab (foot) behind him. The Sixers have been methodical and cautious with his playing time. Embiid is on a 28-minute restriction and can play in only one game of a back-to-back series. 

The same player who is so closely watched, though, also plays with sky-high energy that doesn’t have a brake pedal. 

“You're concerned,” Brown said of seeing Embiid get injured. “It's clear to all of us that he plays with such reckless abandon. I think that we're all going to be seeing this and feeling this regularly. From flying into stands to stalking somebody in the open court to block a shot to the collision he often is in trying to draw fouls. That's just who he is. 

“I think that as he just plays more basketball and continues to grow, to not necessarily avoid those situations, just to perhaps manage them a little bit more. Right now, he's just a young guy that's just playing that doesn't know what he doesn't know and has a fearless approach underneath all that attitude.”

Fearless is an accurate description considering Embiid's trouble-free reaction to the awkward way his leg bent (he hadn’t seen a replay). 

“I kind of had that in college, too,” he said. “I think I’m flexible, so it’s supposed to happen.”