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.

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.
 
Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kinda make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 14th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kinda like we finished last couple games there against Washington (in the playoffs). We kinda got burnt there 6-1 (in Game 3). We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minn., over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”