Have We Seen Enough of the Eagles’ QB Competition? And More Observations

Have We Seen Enough of the Eagles’ QB Competition? And More Observations

At this point you probably should be resigned to the inevitable. Barring injury or a dramatic reversal of fortune, Michael Vick will be named the Eagles’ starting quarterback sometime between now and September 9.

It’s not that Nick Foles has been bad by any means. The 24 year old moved the offense quite capably. It’s just, well… he’s made a mistake or two, whereas Vick has not yet.

Vick has struggled to throw so much as an incomplete pass for that matter. The four-time Pro Bowler’s line through two preseason games: 13 for 15, 199 yards – better than 13 per attempt – one touchdown. He’s run twice for 20 yards. Perhaps most important of all, Vick has only been sacked once, and his lone turnover came on an interception off a Hail Mary as the game clock expired.

Foles has been sharp, too, completing 78.6% of his passes while leading a pair of scoring drives. He’s turned the ball over twice though, at least one of which was almost entirely his own fault. Not saying it’s fair – Foles had just 31 preseason snaps to prove himself. That’s simply what happened.

On the other hand, that’s why there isn’t really any reason to wave off the competition yet, either. Vick has been on the field for all of 30 snaps himself, and while it’s been a quality 30 snaps, they’re not enough to totally convince anybody he’s heading for a second Comeback Player of the Year award, are they?

Vick deserves the start in preseason game three in Jacksonville on Saturday. He probably deserves a majority of the reps, too. That said, there really isn’t any reason for Chip Kelly to formally name him the starting quarterback for Week 1 in Washington. Based on what, half a game’s work?

I don’t expect anything to change in terms of who will be under center, but Foles could still use the reps – we’ve seen Vick get hot, get hurt before. The extra series or two a 10-year veteran will lose isn’t going to get him any more ready for the regular season, whereas it can actually help a second-year quarterback a great deal. And history suggests he may need it.

Let’s see this through to the end, even if it might be a bit of a farce coming down the home stretch. And then let’s get on to the regular season already.

RISING FALLING

LeSean McCoy

Eight carries for 47 yards (5.9 per carry), plus he punched one in at the goal line. Three catches, 16 yards. Beyond solid in pass protection. Oh, and there was his 21 scamper where it seemed as if he was running around the field looking for Panthers defenders to juke. He's going to be real fun to watch, folks.

Chris Polk

Did some things well. Is willing in protection. Contributes on special teams. Finished with five carries for 24 yards, much better than Week 1. However, that fumble lost is killer, took 3-7 points off the board for the Eagles. Bryce Brown has had issues with this in the past, and he didn’t even play, so it won’t necessarily cost Polk playing time, but enough to get him the “falling” column here.

Jason Avant

Shows chemistry with the quarterback regardless who is under center. What he lacks in pure athleticism he still makes up for in timing and intelligence. Made one mistake in illegally blocking downfield, but just a brain fart. Came back on the next play and got most of the yards back. Finished with four catches for 42 yards on four targets, giving him seven for 84 this preseason. Doesn’t look like his role will diminish any.

Jason Kelce

Arguably has been their most solid lineman. Evan Mathis looked a little rusty against Carolina, and Todd Herremans had something of an up-and-down night versus the Patriots. Allen Barbre seems to be getting some help while filling in over at left tackle, and naturally looks better in this OL-friendly offense. Lane Johnson has impressed, but is a rookie. Kelce has looked natural and strong in both phases, and hasn’t missed any game snaps – big positives coming off last season’s knee injury.

Zach Ertz

Nice improvement over a week ago. Had two catches for 36 yards, both to convert third downs. Had another big catch that was wiped away by a penalty. Saw him make one nice block on a wide receiver screen, driving his man past the sticks. All came against a second-string defense, still positive all the same.

Greg Salas

Has garnered some attention as a possible candidate to fill the fifth receiver spot on the roster. Caught two balls for 27 against Carolina. Also sort of forced a muffed punt as he was engaged with the blocker who disrupted the returner’s effort to field the kick.  Now has five receptions for 81 and a TD, and some circus catches in practice.

Matt Tobin

I suppose when you’re the backup to the left tackle’s backup (and that guy [Allen Barbre] probably wouldn’t start before the Eagles moved Lane Johnson there, Todd Herremans to right tackle, and played somebody else at guard), there’s no need to say too much. Didn’t keep Dennis Dixon’s blindside clean, nearly resulting in a turnover. Not very promising in general.

MIXED REVIEWS

Nick Foles

Bobbled two shotgun snaps against Carolina – one he kept his poise and converted a third down, the other he wound up throwing an interception. Made a dangerous-looking fake lateral on a zone keeper. Appeared to make the wrong read on one of those packaged plays, handing off with a loaded box. Just hasn’t had the big plays Vick has. Eagles are probably fine if he winds up starting, but has not made the most of opportunities so far.

Russell Shepard

Has made more plays on special teams than Salas. Ran right through a “wedge” to blow up a kickoff return around the 10-yard line. Is usually in position to force the issue with the punt returner. Has shown no ability as a wide receiver though. Went untargeted last week, and has just one catch for four yards overall. Special teams are important, but I don’t know if they’re that important.

Michael Bamiro

His second week was better than the first. Got out and made a couple of nice blocks on runs to help seal the deal over the Panthers as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter. Did get beat in pass protection once where he couldn’t recover, but the QB got the ball out. Has a lot of work to do, which is to be expected from a rookie who only went pro about a week before training camp. Improvement from one week to the next is a good sign though.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

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Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

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The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

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10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.