Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Defense

Eagles Opposition Report: Rams Defense

The Rams defense made strides in their second season under head coach Steve Spagnuolo. The former Eagles' assistant and disciple of the late, great Jim Johnson believes in the same blitz-heavy philosophies, which is precisely the area where Michael Vick struggled the most last season. St. Louis ranked seventh in the NFL with 43 sacks in 2010, so this will be a huge test for an offensive line that has undergone major renovations.

LDE Chris Long
When the Rams selected Long second overall in the 2008 Draft, they were hoping on a player who would come in and instantly give their defense credibility. It wound up taking a few years, but it appears the son of the great Howie Long is finally ready to take the next step.

After disappointing four and five sack campaigns in his first two seasons, the Virginia product stepped it up last year with 8.5. He got off to another slow start, but racked up eight of those quarterback takedowns over the final 12 games, not to mention  all three of his forced fumbles.

Long will be matched up on Todd Herremans, who is making his first start at right tackle this season. While Herremans was a tackle in college, and has played on the outside a handful of times at the pro level, many are expecting it to be a big adjustment for the longtime left guard. He'll have his hands full with Long, who is a tenacious attacker just now coming into his own.

RDE James Hall
Of course, it would be remiss not to bring up the Rams' leader in sacks last season. The former Detroit Lion has been an afterthought for much of his 11-year career, but is coming off his best season since '04. Hall came from nowhere to collect 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2010. It will be interesting to see whether he can pick up where he left off against Jason Peters on Sunday.

Hall is 34 years old, and is battling a back issue. He is listed as probable this week, but we should also see some of Robert Quinn, the Rams' first round pick out of North Carolina. Peters has been a force at left tackle, so it should be a learning experience for the rookie defensive end.

DT Fred Robbins
With all the changes along the Eagles' offensive line, particularly on the interior, at least one of the St. Louis defensive tackles figures to be a factor. That would most likely be Robbins, as the rest of the group combined for one sack in 2010.

If Robbins' name sounds familiar, that would be because he spent six seasons with the Giants from 2004 to '09, which included some of his best efforts. He may only be getting better with age though, setting a career high in sacks with six last season. As long as the O-line can contain Robbins, the rest of the unit doesn't pose much of a threat, so figure plenty of Jason Kelce-Kyle DeVan double teams for the 34 year old.

MLB James Laurinaitas
Laurinaitas may be the best middle linebacker nobody is talking about. Entering his third season, the second rounder out of Ohio State is a consistent tackler who has the size and athleticism to make plays both when rushing the passer or in coverage. With so many quality MIKEs in the NFC (Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher the most visible), it could be awhile before Lauinaitas gets his proper due from league observers. His opponents cannot afford to make the same mistake.

CBs Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher
If Vick has time to set up in the pocket, the Rams could be in serious trouble. While he's been the starter for the last four years, Bartell has failed to record an interception since the 2008 season. Nnamdi Asomugha doesn't put up big numbers either, but Bartell doesn't exactly have the same reputation. Fletcher, a third-year player out of Iowa, had four picks last season starting opposite Bartell.

St. Louis obviously was not thrilled with the unit as a whole, going out and adding Al Harris off of the scrap heap after nickel corner Jerome Murphy hit IR. Harris was on his last leg two years ago, which tells us the situation must be getting dire. When DeSean Jackson and this deep group of wide receivers comes to town, the defense better bring some quality DBs to the party.

FS Quintin Mikell
I'm actually sort of happy for Q. He landed in a system he's familiar with, on an up-and-coming team that will compete for a playoff spot. He has a chance to put up some nice seasons in St. Louis. What I'm not as happy for is Q lining up for the Eagles' Week 1 opponent. He had the advantage of practicing against the Birds' offense for the past eight years, so you better believe he knows some of its tendencies, and will create his share of opportunities to make big plays.

We also know what Mikell's weaknesses are though, specifically in coverage. He's simply not super-athletic, and relies more on recognition and putting himself in good positions. That can be difficult when the passing attack operates more like a track meet. Expect Mikell to roam the middle of the field and aggressively fly to the ball, but Michael Vick will be able to take his shots deep.

Battling for Phantoms job, goalie Alex Lyon solid in NHL preseason debut

Battling for Phantoms job, goalie Alex Lyon solid in NHL preseason debut

When the Flyers signed Yale goalie Alex Lyon last April, they knew they were getting a competitive guy who was a finalist for the Mike Richter Award.
 
What they didn’t know, however, was likely how he could stand on his head and keep an undermanned squad in an exhibition game with just three NHL players on his side.
 
The Flyers lost 2-0 to the Devils on Monday night against a New Jersey lineup that was far superior and kept the puck in Lyon’s end two-thirds of the game.
 
Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers open their home preseason schedule against the Islanders with a legit lineup.
 
Lyon, who posted a 1.64 goals against average and .936 save percentage last season in college, was outstanding against the Devils with 28 saves on 29 shots (one empty netter).
 
“I had shaky legs until the middle of the first and then I felt I had settled in,” the 23-year-old said. “I guess I didn’t expect that.”
 
Exhibition games don’t mean much but this was a performance worth noting because Lyon showed he will challenge Anthony Stolarz for the starter’s job with the Phantoms this season. 

“Alex Lyon had a solid performance right from start to finish,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Great demeanor and presence. Just a real steady performance all the way through.”
 
The kid seemed undaunted by the Devils' lineup in what was his first-ever start against an NHL club. Notice anything different from college?
 
“The biggest difference is six months ago, I watching Travis Zajac on TV and now I am playing an exhibition game against him,” Lyon replied. “It was pretty cool going up against those guys.”
 
The Devils attacked him mostly with angled shots. So eager they were to test him, they put a shot on goal from their own blue line in the opening minutes of the game, which Lyon saved.
 
“Yeah, I think they were trying to throw some pucks and my rebound control wasn’t as good as it usually is,” Lyon said. “I think it’s because I was a little nervous. I was just trying to stop the puck to be honest, that is all I was thinking about.”
 
Lyon stopped two breakaway attempts from Beau Bennett, both coming in the opening two periods. The only goal from Nick Lappin came on a second rebound in the crease.
 
“They got their point shot through and I saw it clearly the whole way and didn’t react to it,” Lyon said. “I thought it was going to be tipped. There was a forest of sticks as Keith Allain (Yale coach) would say, in front of me.
 
“I was trying to get big in front of it and they took a couple of whacks and subsequently it bounced right to their guy.”
 
While exhibition games mean little to fans, it meant something to him.
 
“I told my roommate in Philly I was playing my first NHL game,” Lyon said. “Yeah, it’s preseason but going from college, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
 
Lyon won’t play Tuesday night against the Islanders.
 
On Provorov
Rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov, who logged a whopping 28:48 ice time during the loss in New Jersey, will play tonight against the Islanders.
 
The staff wants to get an idea of how he plays with heavy minutes in back-to-back games.
 
“I want to get him into two of the three (exhibitions), assuming he earned it,” Hakstol said. “He did a good job last night. His minutes got high but we wanted to get him into a good situation.
 
“He did a good job and the minutes didn’t seem to wear on him. It will be a challenge playing back-to-back. But that’s one for him and a few others where they have to meet the challenge.”
 
Provorov will be paired with Andrew MacDonald as Hakstol has one vet paired with one prospect in this game.
 
World Cup returnees
Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier both say they want to play games right now to keep themselves in game shape but Hakstol is biding time with them, insisting they get some rest off the ice.
 
“I feel like I’m in midseason form already,” Voracek quipped. “I don’t want to sit around. If I take more than 3-4 days off, I'll put on six pounds. ... I wouldn’t mind playing but obviously, we've got to get some rest. ”
 
Loose pucks
• Other defensive pairs: Nick Schultz and Travis Sanheim; Michael Del Zotto and Philippe Myers.  

• The lines: Jordan Weal will again center Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds; Andy Miele will handle Michael Raffl and Matt Read; Nick Cousins centers Scott Laughton and Dale Weise, which has been a line in camp; and Scott Gordon will center Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov.

• Steve Mason will be in goal and Stolarz will back him up.

• Forward Travis Konecny will not play.

MLB Notes: Bag of signed Jose Fernandez baseballs wash up near site of fatal crash

MLB Notes: Bag of signed Jose Fernandez baseballs wash up near site of fatal crash

MIAMI — As the baseball world mourned the death of Jose Fernandez, a beachgoer found a bag containing four baseballs signed by the Marlins 24-year-old pitcher.

WSVN-TV reports a black bag containing Jose Fernandez's checkbook and four autographed baseballs apparently washed ashore on Miami Beach not far from the site the pitcher's boat slammed into a jetty early Sunday. Fernandez and two friends were killed.

Ocean Rescue Division Chief Vincent Canosa tells WSVN the bag was given to a lifeguard and that it apparently came from the boat.

Fernandez had been scheduled to start Monday night's game against the New York Mets. Instead, his teammates honored him in an emotional pre-game ceremony. The players took the field, tears in their eyes, wearing black jerseys with the number 16 and Fernandez's name on back.

Rangers: Brother of Yu Darvish convicted on gambling charges
TOKYO — A Japanese court on Tuesday convicted the brother of Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish of gambling on baseball games, handing him a suspended prison sentence.

The Osaka District Court found Sho Darvish guilty of taking hundreds of bets on Major League Baseball and on professional baseball games in Japan last year.

The court said the 27-year-old younger brother of Yu Darvish was sentenced to two years and four months in prison, but it was suspended for five years. The court said the defendant's gambling was limited to his group of friends and was not linked to organized crime, according to local media reports.

The younger Darvish took bets of 10,000 yen ($100) on Japanese and American professional baseball games, accepting wagers totaling about 110 million yen ($1.1 million) through the LINE social networking application, Kyodo News reported.

Sho Davsish himself bet roughly 220 million yen ($2.2 million) on the games, Kyodo said.

His arrest last year led to an investigation of his brother, Yu Darvish, but the authorities found no involvement by the Rangers star.

Sho Darvish reportedly said during his trial that he regretted causing trouble to his family and that he planned to change his surname to make their relationship less obvious.

But on Tuesday, judge Hajime Hashimoto reportedly advised Darvish that what should change are his actions, not his name.