Latest Updates on Eagles-Browns: DeMeco Ryans, Bryce Brown, Trent Richardson, & More

Latest Updates on Eagles-Browns: DeMeco Ryans, Bryce Brown, Trent Richardson, & More

We mentioned DeMeco Ryans had been replaced by Jamar Chaney in the defense's nickel package at practice on Thursday. Following up on those reports, when practice resumed the following afternoon, Ryans was back to work in the nickel, suggesting the experiment as a three-down linebacker is not dead yet.

In an attempt to clarify just what the heck is going on at the heart of the Eagles' defense, Andy Reid only made the picture more convoluted, admitting all six of the team's linebackers will play on Sunday. So along with Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, and Akeem Jordan, apparently we'll see plenty of Chaney, Casey Matthews, and Brian Rolle as well.

“We had success with it towards the end of last year,” Reid said. “Guys know their roles. They can focus in on it. They’re all interchangeable, which is a good thing. They all know each other’s positions and have gotten reps at all positions, which works out well.”

While Geoff Mosher categorizes this as a carousel, I'll save the skepticism until we see exactly how much the subs are utilized and in what roles. I can see a scenario where Ryans gives way to the speedier Chaney in third-and-long situations, but where Matthews or Rolle fit into the equation, I'm not really sure.

>> Bowen: Eagles think they are ready to do linebacker shuffle [DN]

Dion Lewis is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, which means Bryce Brown could be the guy who carries the load behind Shady on Sunday. At this point, the only knock on Brown is his pass protection, which is a huge part of the running back's job in Reid's offense, and may convince the coaches to lean heavily on McCoy.

As a pure rusher though, the seventh-round rookie has been ultra impressive. With is fluid running style, burst, and power -- not to mention ability to catch the ball out of the backfield -- Brown looks like he may be a superior talent to Lewis. Brown carried 22 times for 122 yards (4.4 avg) and a score in the preseason, along with seven receptions for 62 ticks.

>> Bryce Brown on fast track to meaningful role [CSN]

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita got a reprieve from the suspension handed down for his involvement in the Saints bounty scandal -- for now. Word is the suspensions will be reinstated eventually, but Fujita is available to play on Sunday after an arbitrator's ruling came down late Friday afternoon.

Fujita could shore up a shaky situation at outside linebacker, where the Browns were thin in the wake of the suspension and Chris Gocong's injury. However, Fujita is banged up himself, and the word is he likely won't take the field on Sunday. Minor break for the Birds, though Fujita is no game changer either.

>> Health, not suspension, could keep Scott Fujita off the field [PFT]

On the other hand, expectations for Cleveland's Trent Richardson are on the rise for this Sunday. At one point, whether or not the third overall pick would even play so soon after having a procedure on his knee was not a sure thing, and many believed if he did, the Browns would ease the back into the offense.

Estimates have changed quite a bit, and despite his questionable status, Richardson could have a full load on his plate against the Eagles. Browns GM Tom Hecker told a Canton newspaper "if he's ready to go, he's ready to go." If the Browns intend to stay in the game, they may feel the need to keep handing the ball to Richardson, partly to take pressure off of their rookie QB, partly to eat some clock, but also just because he's already got to be their biggest playmaker. Brandon Jackson will surely see some snaps as well though.

>> Interview: Browns' Heckert happy old boss sees improving team [CantonRep.com]

WR Riley Cooper and S Colt Anderson are out. Both normally contribute on special teams. Their absences could be felt if dangerous return man Josh Cribbs has a big day.

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Phillies MVP Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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USA Today Images

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”