How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

How Great Is Eagles Need at Offensive Line?

In retrospect, the Eagles’ 2012 season was over before it
ever got started. It was right around this time last year when they were hit
with the bad news that would destroy them.

All-world left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles
tendon during a private workout last March, and again while trying to get
around his house three weeks later. The front office went into scramble mode, quickly
re-signing King Dunlap, then chasing down the top free agent available in
Demetress Bell. Everyone prayed for the best.

If only replacing Peters were that easy. It was damaging
enough to the Birds’ cause that the injury happened to a player who many
analysts were describing as the best offensive lineman in football, but also at
one of the toughest positions to fill no less. More than half of the starting
left tackles
in the NFL are first-round draft picks.

Dunlap and Bell were (somewhat predictably) nothing short of
terrible, and the absence of Peters had a domino effect on the rest of the
line. After making a strong transition to right tackle a year earlier, Todd
Herremans was suddenly called upon to anchor the unit, a role in which he struggled. Sophomore
Danny Watkins looked lost next to him, and from the very beginning it appeared as though the
problems were going to reverberate down the line to Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis,
and obviously back to the Dunlap/Bell platoon.

But that’s only part of the story. Kelce suffered a torn MCL
in Week 2 against the Ravens, opening another enormous hole at center, and if
all of that wasn’t enough, Herremans dislocated a bone in his foot in Week 9 at
New Orleans. Factor in Watkins got beat out for his job by street-free agent
Jake Scott, and virtually the entire thing was a mess.

We all remember what the end result was. Michael Vick was
punished until he couldn’t take no more, and the Eagles’ once-explosive offense
never got off the ground.

You can preach about depth all you want – this was an
impossible situation for any organization. That being said, most fans don’t care
about excuses true or otherwise, they just want the problem fixed.

The question is how
much actually needs fixing?

For starters, don’t let the rest of the line play reflect
poorly on Mathis. Despite everything going on around him, he was a rock, to the
point where many observers felt he was worthy of a trip to Honolulu. He signed
a five-year pact last offseason, so left guard at least seems to be solidified
for awhile.

Let’s not forget that three of these guys are coming back,
either. Herremans’ break was rare, but there is no indication that it was
anything he won’t make a full recovery from, and like Mathis, he’s under contract
through 2016. Knee injuries such as the one Kelce suffered are always
concerning for linemen, but he’s only 25 and should still be considered one of
the franchise’s building blocks.

Most important, Peters’ recovery sounds like it’s going
well. He was already up and running around toward the end of last season, and
may have even tried to jump back into the lineup had there been anything left
to play for down the stretch. Chip Kelly told reporters last week that Peters
will participate in the Eagles’ first practice in April.

Now the bad

That’s all well and good, but pessimists would point out
that this is a 328-lbs., 31-year-old man trying to come back from multiple
surgeries on his Achilles tendon. The notion Peters will ever be “the best”
again is one nobody should hold too tight, and we’ll have to wait and see in
September what he can do on a football field.

Peters is undoubtedly the left tackle going into this season,
but the team needs to begin at least considering a future without him. His
contract expires in two more seasons, and Achilles or no, he’ll be in or
nearing the downside of his career. An extension isn’t out of the question yet,
but the Eagles can’t afford to find themselves without a left tackle a year or two down the
road.

They need to find a solution at right guard as well. There is a faint sliver of hope Watkins can rebound – after all,
the 2011 first-round pick didn’t have a terrible rookie season. With former offensive-line coach Howard
Mudd’s complicated zone-blocking scheme out of the equation, it’s plausible
Watkins could bounce back under a new system and coaching staff. He’ll turn 29
in November already, so it’s tempting to view him as nothing more than a sunk
cost (which he may be), but change could be positive for him.

If the Eagles were able to acquire another tackle – through the draft being
a distinct possibility, but by whatever means – Herremans could always slide over. He
played left guard for the first six years he was in the league.

Outlook

Obviously the Eagles can’t rely on Watkins having any value
to the club beyond depth, and while Peters is still the man for now, the front
office must at least consider making other arrangements there. However, it wasn’t
all that long ago when this was an up-and-coming unit, in fact probably one of
the better offensive lines in the NFL.

In the second half of 2011, Peters and Mathis were
absolutely dominating on the left side, Kelce was developing into a fine, young
center, and Herremans was effective at right tackle with a little assistance
from tight ends and backs. Even Watkins showed some promise while taking his
lumps. The bench is not entirely devoid of prospects, either – rookie fifth
rounder Dennis Kelly looked like he might be able to play a little bit once he was
inserted at right tackle.

It’s an area the Eagles need to and will address, but not
one that needs a total overhaul. Some better luck in the health department,
along with some relatively full recoveries, and they are no more than one piece
away from returning to form in 2013.

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Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

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USA Today Images

Roland Alberg's goal, assist propel Union past Sporting Kansas City, 2-0

BOX SCORE

CHESTER, Pa. -- Roland Alberg entered the game at the perfect time.

With his club holding the man advantage as a result of Jimmy Medranda’s second yellow card in the 57th minute, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Alberg off the bench to replace Fabian Herbers in the 65th minute. 

Two minutes later, the Union took the lead. From the left side, Fabinho found Alberg at the top of the box, where he teed off a shot at that ripped past Alec Kann to open scoring in the eventual 2-0 Union win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Talen Energy Stadium.

It was Alberg’s ninth goal of the season.

The Union now have wins in back-to-back games for the first time since March, pushing their record to 11-9-7 and temporarily jumping them over the New York Red Bulls for third in the Eastern Conference. SKC falls to 11-12-5.

Facing Sporting Kansas City at Talen Energy Stadium for the first time since the 2015 U.S. Open Cup title game, the Union, who lost that game in penalty kicks, wanted to dictate tempo. However, the club was unable to break down SKC’s stout midfield until the red cards started flying.

Already down a man, things began to unravel for SKC in the 87th minute, when Roger Espinoza was shown a straight red for tossing what appeared like an inadvertent elbow to the midsection of Alberg. 

In stoppage time, up two men, the Union put the exclamation point on the win. Alberg found Tranquillo Barnetta in an open pocket of the SKC defense, and with space, the Swiss veteran placed his shot to the right and in, sealing the 2-0 win.

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Avalon, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”  

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

A.J. Ellis still adjusting, learning names as he joins the Phillies

NEW YORK – It wasn’t easy leaving the only professional organization he’d ever been part of, but new Phillie A.J. Ellis, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade Thursday, is coming to terms with it.

“To find out that the trade went down, it was hard,” Ellis said upon reporting to his new club Saturday. “It was so immediate and sudden, really hard to say goodbye to a lot of relationships I had been blessed to forge for more than a decade.

“But the waves of emotion are getting farther and farther apart, which is a good thing.”

Ellis, 35, was drafted by the Dodgers in 2003 and rose to the majors with them in 2008. With the Phillies, he will serve a similar role to the one he played with the Dodgers – backup catcher. Ellis wasted no time getting to know the pitching staff he will now work with. He arrived at Citi Field early Saturday afternoon and caught Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff in their between-starts bullpen sessions.

Ellis said “Eichorn” when referring to Eickhoff. He’s forgiven. It’s been a whirlwind week.

“See?” he said. “I’m still learning names.”

Ellis, who served as the personal catcher for Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw, was blindsided by the trade.

“When I was summoned to the ballpark, that’s never really a good thing, especially when the front office wants to meet with you as far as where you’re at with the club, you know some kind of transition is happening,” he said. “The first 12 hours were definitely the hardest.

“But to arrive here and arrive in the clubhouse, meeting the staff, I’m starting to feel re-energized, refilled with a sense of purpose as to why I’ve been placed here, and why this is where I need to be at this time. I’m excited about that.

"I know I have huge shoes to fill. Carlos Ruiz is such a fixture in the Phillies organization. The work that he’s done here behind the plate, you can’t fill. This guy is a world champion catcher who has been back there for so many great baseball memories. So it’s up to me to do my part to fill the void.”

Manager Pete Mackanin thought about putting Ellis in the lineup Saturday night then had some mercy when he figured facing hard-throwing Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard might not be the best indoctrination for a guy who just flew cross-country. Ellis is likely to start Sunday afternoon’s series finale and catch Vince Velasquez.

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t asked to make a contribution to Saturday night’s game. Mackanin said he wanted Ellis to speak with the Phillies hitters about the weaknesses the Dodger pitchers tried to exploit.

“We talk to them about this stuff all the time, but it might help to hear it from an outside source,” Mackanin said.

Ellis left a first-place club for a rebuilding team. That’s not easy. He has come to terms with that. He likes the young talent on the Phillies’ roster and hopes to help it come to flower.

“Guys are playing for their careers,” he said. “Guys are playing to make their mark in this game and create a winning franchise once again in Philadelphia. 

"You see the talent, you see their desire to learn, their desire to get better. You just know the youth on this staff, the talent level on this staff. And if I can in some short time here impact some wisdom on those guys, share some of the wisdom along the way that I’ve picked up from some great mentors I’ve had in my time in the game, I need to pay it back, from what all has been given to me.”

Ellis hit just .197 with a .285 on-base percentage in 53 games for the Dodgers this season. That’s one of the reasons the Dodgers acquired Ruiz – to get more production from their right-handed-hitting backup catcher. Ruiz had a .369 on-base percentage at the time of the trade.

Phillies’ general manager Matt Klentak was “adamant” that Ellis come back on the deal because he wanted someone who could fill Ruiz’ void on (behind the plate) and off (with clubhouse leadership) the field. Ellis’ time with the Phillies might be short. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and his playing time might be scant as September unfolds. The Phils will probably add prospect Jorge Alfaro to the catching mix sometime during that month. Management seems eager to get a look at him while still getting No. 1 catcher Cameron Rupp the game reps he needs.