Five Reasons the Eagles Might Be Successful in 2013

Five Reasons the Eagles Might Be Successful in 2013

For the first time since Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia, we were provided an actual glimpse into what the Eagles will be like under a new head coach on Monday. It will be a few months yet before we can get a read on what direction the team is heading – and as long as we’re being honest, probably longer – but excitement seems to be on the rise.

Expectations on the other hand, well… not quite so much.

We’re only a handful of practices deep, not to mention a few short months removed from a 4-12 campaign, so I suppose it’s only natural. That said, a lot of people might be underselling the Birds already at this juncture. I don’t mean to suggest they are a legitimate contender or anything like that at the moment, but somewhere in the broad spectrum of 6 to 10 wins is a possibility in the season ahead.

10 wins? Yes, I have been told that sounds steep. Frankly it’s not a prediction, which I would not even attempt to make before knowing who the starting quarterback is going to be at the very least.

There are several reasons to believe the Eagles might be heading for a nice rebound season of sorts under Kelly – despite the uncertainty under center. With the squad in the news a bunch over the past 24 hours, here are my strongest five.

1. Improved offensive line

Some might say the Eagles’ season was over before it ever began in 2012. When left tackle Jason Peters went down with a ruptured Achilles that March, the club lost arguably the most dominant offensive lineman in the NFL. Center Jason Kelce followed suit with a torn ACL in Week 2, and right tackle Todd Herremans completed the trifecta with a broken foot around the midway point.

Good news: two of the three were full participants at OTAs on Monday. Peters is back where he belongs, anchoring the left side of the line. Herremans was in his new home at right guard – no worries, he played well there (albeit on the left side) for the better part of six seasons.

Kelce was only a limited participant, although he is expected to be a full go for training camp. Evan Mathis recently underwent a cleanup procedure on his knee and was absent, but should also be ready by July.

Just having those four players healthy alone would have been an upgrade over last season, and that doesn’t even include rookie Lane Johnson. The fourth-overall pick was getting his feet wet with the second stringers at practice, however he figures as the opening day starter at right tackle come September.

Regardless of which quarterback is at the helm, that person stands a far better chance behind this group than they did the likes of Demetress Bell, King Dunlap, Dallas Reynolds, Danny Watkins, etc.

2. Unpredictable schemes

We think we have some inkling as to what the Eagles might look like under Chip. By now we’re all familiar on some level with the spread offense/read option his offenses ran at Oregon. We know defensive coordinator Billy Davis has experience with hybrid defenses that utilize aspects of both the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments.

What we don’t know – and more importantly, what the rest of the league does not know yet – is precisely how all of these different philosophies will be incorporated into the Eagles.

For at least the first few weeks of the season, perhaps longer, Chip Kelly will hold the element of surprise against his opponents. Heck, it’s entirely possible we may not even have an official announcement about who the quarterback is until the weeks leading up to the first game of the season.

Do opposing defenses prepare for the read option similar to what Kelly used at Oregon, or should they ready themselves for elements of the west coast attack that offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is versed in? And how are Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Robert Griffin going to react to the varying fronts Davis will throw at them when those passers have had a general idea as to where exactly the Birds’ pass rush was coming from over the past two seasons?

Add the anticipated no-huddle offense into the equation, and Kelly should have the opposing sidelines on their toes. The advantages might be slight – might not – and the coaching staff won’t necessarily reinvent the game, but after 14 years of Andy Reid, any deviation from the norm should have an impact.

3. Culture change

Speaking of Andy, as good of a run he had, there is no denying how completely the wheels fell of over the last two seasons. It began at the very top with an alleged power struggle. How much of that was with former club president Joe Banner is unclear, but Reid and general manager Howie Roseman almost certainly did not see eye to eye on some players.

That dysfunction trickled down to the coaching staff, particularly on the defense end beginning when Reid promoted offensive line coach Juan Castillo to coordinator. The hire was intently scrutinized, and Castillo was undermined at every turn – directly by Jim Washburn, indirectly through the presence of Todd Bowles, and a bit of both by some players – until he was fired six weeks into his second season on the job.

Then there were those very players, guys Reid himself brought in. Whether it was Nnamdi Asomugha, Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie, or Jason Babin, several of the franchise’s biggest additions over the last two seasons came from losing organizations and brought attitudes with them to boot.

Turning over a new leaf was just what this franchise needed. A fresh start with a different coaching staff can only be a positive for the remaining players. Bringing in free agents such as Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips, and Isaac Sopoaga from winning programs should affect change on the mindset in the locker room. Add a smart, impressionable draft class into the mix, and this is suddenly a very different organization.

4. Usual playoff turnover

12 clubs earn a berth into the NFL playoffs. History portends that roughly half of the past season’s entrants will not return next January.

Since 1996 between five and seven new qualifiers have emerged in all but three postseasons. One year – 2008 – there was actually eight. So in 15 of the last 17 seasons there have been at least five substitutes in the tournament, and on average it’s roughly half the field.

Those factoids are far from some kind of assurance the Eagles will land a spot after the dust settles in ‘13, but they certainly don’t hurt Philly’s chances, either. The NFL is unpredictable, so although inter-conference opponents such as the 49ers, Falcons, and Packers appear to be locks in May, a lot can change between now and December.

And even though the Eagles finished 4-12 last season, having one of the worst records in the league doesn’t necessarily preclude them from making the jump. The Colts, Vikings, and Redskins all finished with five wins or less in ‘11, and each followed up with widely unexpected runs in ‘12.

Playoff turnover is the norm in pro football. There will very likely be a minimum of two, and possibly as many as three or four new challengers in the NFC next season. With everything going on at the NovaCare Complex these days, why can’t one of them be the Birds?

5. The talent is there

Nobody is suggesting this team as currently constructed is Super Bowl bound. This may have been mentioned once or twice before, but we can’t even be sure who the quarterback is.

The Eagles have three talented quarterbacks though. They have an All-Pro running back, a Pro-Bowl wide receiver (maybe two), along with a healthy group of prospects and veterans on offense. The defense is more a work in progress, but there is some flexibility in terms of scheme, plus a fair mix of young players from recent drafts and quality free agent competition from this offseason.

While they only won four games last season, does that tell the whole story of the current Eagles? How many games were lost before the opening kickoff without a competitive O-line, or because some folks in the organization just weren’t buying in? How hard is it to believe with a little shake-up some of these players can produce more, or what they were before everything apart?

The Birds could win six games this upcoming season, they could win 10 – let’s be real, that’s just about every team in the NFL. But if all went well, they could win 10.

Just a little something to tide you over until training camp.

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”

Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

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Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

MIAMI -- In tribute to Jose Fernandez, left-handed hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate as a righty to lead off the first inning of Monday's mournful game.

After one pitch, Gordon switched to his customary left side -- and homered in the first at-bat for Miami since the death of Fernandez in a boating accident.

Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season. He tapped his chest after crossing the plate and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.

It was another heart-tugging moment in a succession of them over the past two days.

The atmosphere was funereal at Marlins Park three hours before the first pitch, with players going through their pregame stretching in eerie silence.

Then someone cranked up the sound system, and bouncy reggaeton reverberated throughout the ballpark. It was a nudge toward a return to normal, as the Marlins and baseball began to move on without Fernandez.

The animal race at the end of the fifth inning was canceled, along with other in-game entertainment, and most of the Marlins' hitters decided to forgo walk-up music. But there was a game against the Mets, the first for the Marlins since their ace died early Sunday.

"This is shallow, but the show goes on," Marlins president David Samson said. "There has been a lot of talking and a lot of crying and a lot of praying and a lot of trying to make sense of something you can't make sense of. There is no sense to a life ended like that, in a way that is so meaningless.

"It's our job to make his life matter, so we're going to do that forever, and forever starts today."

Fernandez made his major league debut against the Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night in his final start of the season. Instead, Miami and the Marlins mourned the loss of the 24-year-old pitcher, whose talent and captivating personality were a combination unmatched in the sport.

Fernandez and two other men were killed when his 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a rock jetty that extends off the southern tip of Miami Beach at about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, a medical examiner said.

Fernandez was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday before his start was moved back a day. The change may be the reason he decided to go on the late-night boat outing.

"If he had pitched yesterday, maybe fate would be different," Samson said. "I've been thinking about that a lot."

Manager Don Mattingly said, "Obviously it crosses your mind."

The Marlins' game Sunday against Atlanta was canceled, and when they took the field Monday for batting practice, Fernandez's name and number hovered over the field on the huge video screen. Gordon wore a T-shirt that said "RIP," with a photo of Fernandez shaped as the "I."

For the game, the players decided to wear Fernandez's No. 16, with hastily made uniforms flown in. His number was also stenciled on the back of the mound.

The pregame ceremony included a slow, solemn solo trumpet rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Following the national anthem, New York manager Terry Collins led his Mets across the field to share hugs with the Marlins, and fans briefly chanted "Jose, Jose."

The Marlins then clustered around the mound and put their hands to the dirt. Some scratched out Jose's number or a message of love, and some just rubbed the mound -- his mound. His career record at Marlins Park was 29-2.

Fans established a makeshift memorial on the plaza outside the ballpark entrance, leaving dozens of flower arrangements -- daisies, carnations, roses and lilies, the result as colorful as Fernandez's personality. There were also candles, and messages scrawled on balls, balloons, photos and jerseys.

The situation was emotional even for the Mets, who are in the thick of the chase for an NL wild card with one week left in the season. On their dugout wall hung a Mets jerseys with Fernandez's name and number.

"Hearts are heavy," New York outfielder Jay Bruce said. "From a professional standpoint, you just try to prepare and play the game and respect the game. But I can't even imagine what it's like over in that other clubhouse."

Collins spoke about Fernandez in the present tense.

"He epitomizes what the game's about," Collins said. "Our game is bigger than a lot of things. It will always go on. We'll remember Jose. You've got to play the game in his honor. He would want to be out there."

Plans for a public funeral had not been finalized, but it was expected to be Thursday, the Marlins' final off day of the season.

Fernandez defected from Cuba at age 15, won the NL Rookie of the Year award and became a two-time All-Star. His enormous popularity in South Florida bridged the divide between the franchise and fans antagonized by too much losing and too many payroll purges.

Fernandez left behind a girlfriend who is expecting their first child, the mother who came with him to the United States and the grandmother who helped raise him.

On Sunday evening, the entire team took two buses to Fernandez's family home and met for 45 minutes with his mother, grandmother and other relatives and friends.

Fernandez's agent, Scott Boras, spoke to reporters near the batting cage -- or at least tried to. He said he paid his respects to the family before coming to the ballpark.

"His mother wanted me to tell everyone how she felt," Boras said. "She showed me pictures of him as a boy. She actually made his uniform when he was 7 or 8, with Cuban red pants."

Boras then cut short the interview because he couldn't stop crying.