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.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

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Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

CAMDEN, N.J. — It has been over three weeks since Ben Simmons suffered an acute Jones fracture in his right foot during the final scrimmage of training camp. The Sixers had constructed schemes around the rookie point-forward and watched unconventional lineups play out at Stockton University.

Those “can’t-wait-to-see” situations have been delayed to “wait-and-see” as Simmons recovers.

“Where do you begin?” Brett Brown said after practice Sunday. “I could talk for three days on what’s different without Ben Simmons. It’s all-over-the-place different. The core values of how you want to do different things there remain the same, but the whole landscape changed.”

This week was supposed to be the debut of a new-look system featuring a player who could influence the game with his versatility and athleticism. Brown even had experimented with pairing Simmons and Dario Saric at the two and three positions. Instead, the Sixers once again will start a regular season shorthanded by injuries.

Simmons was projected to start at power forward and also handle point responsibilities. His multitasking lessened the need for the Sixers to find a standout point guard this summer. They signed veteran Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, who is returning to the NBA for his second stint.

Bayless was expected to start, with the intention of Simmons running the floor at times. Now, neither can play. Bayless has been sidelined by a ligament injury in his left wrist. The Sixers announced on Friday that Bayless will have a non-surgical rehab and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

Brown on Sunday was undecided on whether Rodriguez or second-year point guard T.J. McConnell would start at the one on opening night.

“He was going to be one of the primary ballhandlers,” Brown said of Simmons. “And with that, floor spots and spacing and how you actually set this thing up changes dramatically.”

The players also have noticed a change without Simmons in the backcourt. Joel Embiid, playing his first season after missing the past two with foot injuries, found himself struggling with his shot selection early on in the preseason. He got glimpses in camp of how Simmons could improve that.

“He’s such a big presence and he’s really important to us,” Embiid said. “He just makes plays. I’ve been rushing shots and that’s where it comes in play. Someone like him can help me get better shots because he can get me easy baskets.”

Simmons’ absence also fast-forwarded Saric’s transition in his first NBA season. The injuries to Simmons and Jahlil Okafor (right knee) have pushed Saric into the starting power forward role during the preseason. The rookie has been learning on the go in a new league.

“He has been thrown into the fire,” Brown said of Saric last week (see story).

Simmons recently went through a two-week, post-operative exam and had sutures removed. He is working on day-to-day rehab with the Sixers' staff while also spending time talking with Brown. The team is implementing a multi-faceted recovery program of education, health and shot improvement.

This includes meeting with Brown to break down his game — where it is now and where it can develop in the future. Brown wants to make sure Simmons knows the ins and outs of the system so he is best prepared to begin his rookie season once cleared to play.

“I think that part of my excitement is I get with Ben every day while we’re here and go into my office for half-an-hour and it’s like basketball-NBA 101,” Brown said.

That’s one aspect of Simmons’ injury for which Brown can prepare.