How does WR/KR Brad Smith fit in with the Eagles?

How does WR/KR Brad Smith fit in with the Eagles?

Not many street free agents come along in November with a body of work in the NFL like Brad Smith. The Eagles signed the veteran wide receiver/kick returner/Swiss Army knife on Tuesday morning, a move that could potentially have implications all over the roster.

Now in his eighth season, Smith has been a cog in the New York Jets’ and most recently the Buffalo Bills’ offenses and on special teams. Buffalo placed the receiver on injured reserve after suffering a rib injury during the preseason, but the two sides reached an injury settlement and he was released last week. Smith passed a physical with the Eagles and participated in his first practice on Tuesday.

Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman informed The Inquirer's Zach Berman that it's a two-year deal that runs through 2014. Per Berman, Roseman says the move will shore up all four phases of special teams.

While the league officially lists Smith as a wide receiver, he actually has more rushing attempts (132) than receptions (101) in his pro career, and he’ll even attempt a pass (nine) every once in awhile. Where Smith figures to be able to make the most immediate contribution though is on special teams, perhaps in the return game.

Smith will turn 30 in December, so he may not have the 4.4 speed he came into the league with. He’s still dangerous on kickoffs however. Last season, Smith ranked fifth in yards per return (27.6). He’s also tied for fifth among active players with four touchdowns, all of which occurred since 2009.

Damaris Johnson has been a disappointing return option for the Eagles this year, both because of the lack of big plays and some unfortunate miscues. He’s been active, but went without a return in each of the last two games.

Whether Smith can help out at all on offense on such short notice remains to be seen, but the Birds can’t be blown away by Jason Avant’s production in the slot either. Avant has 27 receptions for 311 yards and a touchdown this season.

Because Avant is reliable, he’s not likely to lose his job completely, plus Smith would have to pick up the playbook quickly. Even then, Smith’s best receiving season—32 receptions, 325 yards, two touchdowns for the Jets in ‘07—still doesn’t stack up to the numbers Avant is on pace for this year.

Yet Smith’s versatility is one reason the Eagles may try to find a role for him in the offense however minimal. Formerly a quarterback at the University of Missouri, the Jets and Bills both used Smith to run their Wildcat package. He’s a potentially explosive runner (7.3 career average) who is a threat to throw the ball too, the threat of which could challenge defenses.

That’s not to say Chip Kelly is going to start trotting out the Wildcat against Washington on Sunday, but there are plenty of innovative ways to get Smith the ball in space with a chance to make a big play. For picking a player off the scrap heap in November, this is a potentially exciting move for the Eagles who seem to be firing on all cylinders in recent weeks.

>> Eagles sign kick returner Brad Smith [CSN]
>> Brad Smith statistics [PFR]

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.83 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there." (See story)

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Rupp back behind the plate for Phillies

After scoring five first-inning runs on their way to a 7-5 win against the Braves on Thursday, Pete Mackanin decided not to tinker with the Phillies' lineup too much.

In fact, the only change will be at catcher. The struggling Cameron Rupp will get the start on Friday and bat sixth after Carlos Ruiz was behind the plate on Thursday. Rupp, who was one of the few bright spots for the offense in the first half, is just 5 for 31 since the All-Star break. On the season, Rupp is still batting .271 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs.

Aaron Altherr came off the DL with a bang, tallying three hits, including a two-run homer on Thursday. Mackanin has said Altherr will get a long look in right field and Thursday night was a glimpse of why. 

With Altherr's regular presence in the lineup, Cody Asche has been put on notice. After going on a tear from early June to early July, Asche is batting .094 (5 for 53) in his last 17 games. With Altherr and Odubel Herrera entrenched in right and center, Asche will have to get hot to stave off prospect Nick Williams, who seems to be finding his groove at Lehigh Valley.

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Vince Velasquez, P

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

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Associated Press

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

Temple football starts its training camp next week, but the Owls have made another splash in the future scheduling department. This time, the opponents come from the ACC.

The program announced Friday it has agreed to future series with Boston College (2018 at BC and 2021 in Philadelphia) and Duke (2022 in Cameron, North Carolina and 2023 in Philadelphia). Temple also announced a game with Bucknell in Philadelphia in 2019 announced dates for previously confirmed future matchups with Maryland and Rutgers and 2017's season opener at Notre Dame.

The Boston College series is intriguing because it will be the renewal of an annual series from when the programs used to meet every year in Big East conference play. The Eagles hold a 28-7-2 all-time advantage over the Owls. Temple's last win against Boston College came in 1999 when the Owls earned a 24-14 victory. Of course, the matchup will be even juicier if former Temple head coach Steve Addazio is still leading Boston College in two years. But with the way the program floundered to a 3-9 record, earned just one win against an FCS program and went winless in ACC play last season and doesn't have a bright outlook this season, don't hold your breath that Addazio will be there.

The Owls have never met the Dukies on the gridiron.

Temple's non-conference slate this season includes home dates against Army (Sept. 2), Stony Brook (Sept. 10) and Charlotte (Sept. 24) and a visit to in-state rival Penn State (Sept. 17).

Friday's announcements come on the heels of an announcement earlier this month that confirmed Temple will play a three-game set with national powerhouse Oklahoma. That series is set to start in 2024.

Below is a list of dates for Temple's future games against non-conference opponents:
2017 – at Notre Dame - Sept. 2, vs. Villanova - Sept. 9, vs. UMass  - Sept. 16, at Army - Oct. 21
2018 – vs. Villanova -  Sept. 1, vs. Buffalo - Sept. 8, at Maryland - Sept. 15, at Boston College - Sept. 29
2019 – vs. Bucknell - Aug. 31, vs. Maryland - Sept. 14, at Buffalo - Sept. 21), vs. Army - Oct. 26
2020 – vs. Idaho - Sept. 12, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 19
2021 – at Rutgers - Sept. 4, vs. Boston College - Sept. 18
2022 – at Duke - Sept. 3, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 17
2023 – at Rutgers - Sept. 9, vs. Duke - Sept. 16
2024 - at Oklahoma - Aug. 31
2025 - vs. Oklahoma - Sept. 13
2028 - at Oklahoma - Sept. 2