In Other Words, I Think Juan Castillo Should Be Brought Back

In Other Words, I Think Juan Castillo Should Be Brought Back

I'm not going to lie, defending Juan Castillo has become something of a pet project of mine. Since the defense blew its first fourth-quarter lead way back in Week 2, I've maintained the issues weren't all on that side of the ball, that any attempt to paint it as such was misinformed or disingenuous, perhaps both.

Since then, I've shown you how field position backed them into a corner. I've proven that offensive giveaways were the biggest difference makers, and tied giveaways to winning throughout the league. Finally, I demonstrated in great detail how field position, giveaways and additional miscues -- putrid short yardage and red zone offense, issues on special teams, and individual mistakes largely unrelated to coaching -- were epidemic in all five of the Eagles' blown leads this season.

Now I'm here to tell you that, faced with all of those problems, not to mention saddled with inexperienced and/or ineffective linebackers and safeties, Juan Castillo did an incredible job. He did an incredible job, not just for a first-year coordinator, not just for an offensive line coach.

He did an incredible job with what he was given to work with, period.

Am I making the case Castillo is an elite defensive coordinator right now? No, but I would make the case that, based on what he accomplished this season, he could become one. Despite finishing with the second-most turnovers in the NFL, the Eagles' defense ranked 10th in points allowed. That may not sound all that sexy, but it's impressive considering how many of those 38 turnovers amounted to free points, and the many more that could have had the defense not bailed them out occasionally.

In what games did the defense even perform poorly? Eight times this season, they held their opponent to 21 points or less. Only three times did they allow more than 24, since interceptions were returned for touchdowns against Buffalo and Seattle. If I would have told you before the season began the Eagles were going to allow 24 points or less in 13 games, how many games would you have guessed they would win, returning the entire core of their most prolific offense in franchise history?

The three teams that surpassed the 24-point threshold: the Falcons, Giants, and Patriots. The Eagles aided Atlanta and New York wins with, no surprise, poor red zone production and turnovers on offense, while New England whipped the Eagles when they were missing Michael Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha, among others. And frankly, Tom Brady makes a lot of defensive coordinators look foolish.

I reject the idea that this was somehow a horrible showing for the defense. In fact, no measurement conventional or otherwise indicates this was an overall bad defense. They're ranked eighth by the NFL standard, yards. Football Outsiders has them 12th in DVOA. ProFootballFocus.com has them fourth based on cumulative individual scores.

Obviously, something isn't quite adding up here. You are being led to believe this was an incompetent defense desperately in need of new leadership, yet somehow, amazingly they also had one of the better units in the league. What a terrible job that Castillo has done!

What's more, I am starting to believe, contrary to what has been reported, that the Eagles are not searching for a new defensive coordinator at all. The only name the club has been tied to is Steve Spagnuolo, and not a peep has come out of the organization regarding those rumors. As far as I can tell, they're based entirely on the premise that he is available, he has roots in Philadelphia, fans have heard of him, and everybody in the world has determined Castillo is inept, rather prematurely at that.

I doubt Andy Reid has come to the same conclusion about a man with whom he has worked with for 13 years, nor has Spagnuolo for that matter, who called Castillo's promotion a 'great move' only a year ago. "Juan is a football junkie who has always studied the entire game. He's a detailed, aggressive, and passionate football coach -- all attributes vital to coaching defense. I wish him all the best."

Maybe it's just because this was the easy, neatly packaged story line of the offseason -- Offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator winds up Reid's scapegoat after five fourth-quarter leads slip away in disappointing 2011 -- but there really doesn't seem to be any great desire to go back and actually break down and reflect on what transpired this season.

Because if that's all you've got -- those five team losses, and a predisposition to an unconventional coaching hire -- that's awfully thin for torches and pitchforks, my friends. What you are saying is the game of football could not possibly be more complex than a team gave some leads away, and that was strictly a defensive problem, one that begins and ends with having an inexperienced defensive coordinator.

Me? I'd like to see how last summer's additions improve with another year in the system. I'd like to see what Juan can do with a big-time playmaker or two at linebacker. I'd like to see what he could do with a full offseason to teach their young talent.

I'd like to see how far the Eagles could go when their offense and special teams stop holding them back.

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

The Eagles might not have any top-flight cornerbacks, but they certainly have a lot of guys with some talent.

Many of them are young, and all of them are battling for just several roster spots.

That hodgepodge of talent has made the corner position one of the more intriguing spots at this year's training camp. We're not sure how it'll all shake out, who will be the starters, who will be the depth players.

But one thing's for certain: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants all of them to be aggressive.

"It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete," Schwartz said after practice Tuesday. "We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here. If they'll get up and they'll challenge receivers, like I said before, if you can cover — you can't cover many people if you don't want to challenge guys. That's God's honest truth. I could play the deep ball. I'd get my ass 50 yards deep and you couldn't get one over the top of me, but I couldn't cover anything else.

"There's a fine line in there. And the fine line is you obviously have to play the deep ball in this league, but if that's the only thing you're worried about, you're not going to cover anything else."

Schwartz said he's happy with the blend of veteran and young players on the roster, before rattling off five names: Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, JaCorey Shepherd and rookie Jalen Mills.

The one notable omission from that list of names is second-year player Eric Rowe, who finished last year as a starter, but has been somewhat of a forgotten man this spring and summer. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson mentioned some "hiccups" Rowe encountered learning the new defensive scheme (see story).

Even with Rowe buried on the depth chart for now, there are still plenty of talented, young corners fighting for jobs.

Carroll, on the other hand, isn't young. He's 29 and a returning starter from last year. Schwartz praised Carroll's smarts and said he's been a resource for younger players. But Carroll is also coming off of a fibula fracture and subsequent surgery. That's why he's one of the select vets that reported to camp early.

"This is important for him now," Schwartz said. "It's a good opportunity for him to come back before the full club gets here, just to sort of test it out and see how he's feeling. You don't want to judge too much. He might need a day here or there. It helps that he's a veteran player."

It seems Carroll, on a one-year deal, has a decent shot of being a starter opposite McKelvin. During the spring, Brooks worked outside in the base package and moved inside to the slot. At times, the rookie Mills also played in the slot.

Schwartz said corners in the slot need a different set of skills than the ones outside. They need to have the "courage" to take on big-bodied running backs and the occasional pulling guard. They also need to cover differently.

"It's very rare that you're getting the same routes," he said. "You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from the outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't. So it's our job to determine over the next six weeks where all the guys fit in that."

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Wayne, Pa. -- Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q+A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime.