For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

For Their Own Safety: Eagles Add O.J. Atogwe

The Eagles surprised and even disappointed a few people when they did not address the safety position in the draft back in April, and after some flirtation with free agent Yeremiah Bell last month, he ultimately wound up signing with the Jets. It appeared the Birds were prepared to roll with what they had back there, but that changed on Tuesday.

24 hours after reports emerged from some unlikely sources, the team finalized a one-year deal with veteran safety O.J. Atogwe, who is expected to compete for a back-up job -- some might say more.

The Rams released Atogwe following the 2010 season, just one year after agreeing to a long-term contract, to avoid paying him an $8 million roster bonus. Atogwe, who turns 31 this week, spent the first six seasons of his NFL career in St. Louis before signing another five-year deal with the Redskins last March. They in turn dumped him as free agency was getting underway this year.

A third-round pick in '05, Atogwe has had trouble staying healthy, which has played a role in derailing his career. A major shoulder injury knocked him out of the Rams' final four games in '09, which in part led to the front office's unwillingness to work out a true long-term deal. Last season, various lower body injuries cost him three more games, and he was relegated to backup down the stretch.

Atogwe is highly regarded for his football IQ, and while he's slipped out of his prime, he can still contribute when healthy. He was thought to be a possible free agent target of the Eagles in years past, so it's funny he ends up here now to far less fanfare.

How He Fits

There's been a lot of talk already about how this addition impacts the guys here now -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Jaiquawn Jarrett. Let's jump right into it.

First, the starters. Keep in mind, we're not ruling anything out, but we don't anticipate Atogwe to battling with either of the starters for their jobs this summer. Fully healthy and ready to go for camp, Allen's position appears to be locked down for sure. He played well in several games last season, especially as the year went on, and he has the highest ceiling of any of the guys on the roster.

Coleman's spot, on the other hand, seems a bit more fluid. As long as he eliminates some of the mental mistakes, he can overcome his limited ability and be a productive player for the Eagles -- though that is a big if. Still, Coleman has the upperhand over Atogwe, simply by virtue of being the younger player with more upside. At this point, it's his job to lose.

Plus, coaches might be hesitant to trust Atogwe with a full-time role given how injuries have slowed him down, and are likely to be a factor again. At this point in his career, he may be best suited for situational packages, but is likely first in line if either Allen or Coleman go down.

The Jaiquawn Jarrett Situation

Jarrett seems to be the player with the most to lose, to the point where many folks are questioning if he will even have a roster spot at the end of training camp. There is always a chance JJ could be released, but he would have to be a flop of epic proportions to receive the boot after one year. He's a second-round pick, so this would be much worse than Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

Besides the Atogwe signing, the basis for that line of thinking seems to be built on two points: the fact that Jarrett couldn't get on the field during his rookie season, and the lack of hype coming out of off-season programs. Given that the club normally carries four safeties, and the fourth is usually a special teams contributor like Colt Anderson, there may not be room for Jarrett unless he proves his value.

I think the Eagles realize what a serious disadvantage Jarrett was at from the moment he joined the team. We tend to think of physical safeties like Brian Dawkins who run to the ball and wreak havoc with their bodies, but the position is cerebral as well. In the absence of last offseason, which was eliminated by the lockout, a rookie like Jarrett would understandably have a hard time getting up to speed on the mental aspects of the game.

With the benefit of a full offseason, he should improve. Unfortunately, we didn't hear much about Jarrett in the Spring, and the suggestion is that means he is not getting better, not fast enough anyway. The addition of Atogwe would seem to confirm that.

However, adding a veteran safety always seemed like the smart play. If Jarrett was so bad last season, and it was primarily an issue of preparation, why would anybody expect him to have a firm grasp on the nuances of the position less than a year later? And considering the collective inexperience of the group as a whole -- five seasons between the three of them -- adding a smart veteran such as Atogwe to the mix only serves to help.

I'm the wait-and-see type with young players, sometimes to my own detriment, but this kid hasn't even had a chance. Maybe Jarrett's job is on the line here, but I'm not ready to believe the Eagles would cut the cord so fast, not given the circumstances. They made the investment, they can find a roster spot, and if they believe he could play at all, it seems like they have to give him an opportunity to gain experience under optimal conditions.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

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Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

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Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.