Impressions on the First Iteration of the 2011 Eagles Depth Chart

Impressions on the First Iteration of the 2011 Eagles Depth Chart

There's a lot of fun "firsts" once football season starts to roll around. First day of training camp, the first day Madden is released, and, of course, the first Sunday of the season are all popular ones. Today was the less heralded, but still entertaining for football geeks, first draft of the Eagles' depth chart, as the headline would imply.

Of course, a couple of notes before we get into some analysis. First, the depth chart is always UNOFFICIAL. It's compiled largely based on watching who is taking what snaps during practices, not by members of the coaching staff. Also, obviously much can and will change before the regular season gets underway, but it's still interesting to take a peak at what the team is working with up at Lehigh.

So with that in mind, thoughts on a few key positions after the jump.

RT1 - Ryan Harris
This has to be considered the second biggest surprise on the depth chart. The Harris signing was met with little fanfare (we didn't even post on it), and sort of lost in the shuffle after the Birds acquired some guys named Nnamdi, and Cullen, and Ronnie. For now, he is the starting right tackle.

Winston Justice is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Andy Reid told reporters back in April that the starter of two seasons would compete with King Dunlap for his job. Dunlap, however, is currently third on the chart, even behind 2009 fifth rounder Fenuki Topou, who has yet to appear in an NFL game.

Meanwhile, Harris--who signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum--is becoming a greater threat to Justice. A third round pick out of Notre Dame in 2007, the 6-5, 300-pounder started 34 games at right tackle in four seasons with the Broncos, and by all accounts he has been very impressive in camp.

We thought the Eagles could target a high priced talent in free agency, and indeed there is at least one report they went after Doug Free, so when they wound up with Harris, it seemed minor. It appears he could really push Justice though, which certainly isn't a bad thing with him coming off an injury and a subpar season protecting Mike Vick's blind side.

LDE2 - Jason Babin; RDT2 - Cullen Jenkins
The first time I read over the list, I actually did not notice two of the three biggest free agent additions on defense weren't listed as starters. It's mildly interesting, but probably means little.

Babin is currently slotted behind Juqua Parker, who seems to be locked in a battle for his starting job every summer. Ultimately, it doesn't matter much who holds the designation as a starter, because the Eagles will rotate their ends. At $6 million/year, Babin will have more than his fair share of chances to rush the quarterback, while a fresher Parker should equal a more productive Parker.

Antonio Dixon is ahead of Jenkins, though again, there will be some kind of rotation here. But assuming Patterson returns (as he intends) and the Birds are playing with a full deck, it is actually possible Dixon's name could stay on top. He was an effective run-stopper last season, which might make him more appropriate on first and second downs, as opposed to Jenkins, who is coming over from a different defensive alignment entirely.

It could be they are just working Jenkins into the system, but it could be he will also see the bulk of his action on third downs and obvious passing situations.

MLB1 - Casey Matthews; SLB1 - Jamar Chaney
Not much the Eagles do shocks me anymore, but Matthews as the starting middle linebacker accomplished precisely that. I figured at the most, Chaney would reprise his role in the middle, and Matthews would compete at one of the outside positions. It appears they may have pegged him as their new MIKE from the very beginning.

Neither Matthews or Chaney are exceptionally big, both standing at 6 feet, so I suppose they aren't losing anything from a size perspective. For that matter, Chaney--last year's seventh round pick--has only been in the league for one season, with three career starts including the playoffs, so they're not exactly losing out on a wealth of experience either.

Only the Eagles could tell you exactly why they went with Matthews over Chaney in the middle, but it may have something to do with the difference in athleticism. Matthews, a fourth round rookie out of Oregon, is measurably slower than Chaney (4.78 to 4.54 in the 40-yard dash). In Jim Johnson's defensive system, the middle linebacker was typically aggressive around the line of scrimmage, while the outside backers more frequently played in space.

If defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is maintaining the principles of JJ's system, then it makes sense to put the faster player in more coverage situations. As for trusting a rookie at such an important area, if it were anybody else, I'd be more concerned. This Matthews kid, on the other hand, has football in his blood.

RCB1 - Nnamdi Asomugha
Nothing really to add here, but it is sort of cool.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.