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We mentioned DeMeco Ryans had been replaced by Jamar Chaney in the defense's nickel package at practice on Thursday.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.

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.
 
Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kinda make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 14th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kinda like we finished last couple games there against Washington (in the playoffs). We kinda got burnt there 6-1 (in Game 3). We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minn., over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”