Offensive Line Shake-up!

Offensive Line Shake-up!

When people describe the offensive line situation as "scary," and honestly believe the quarterback is "gonna get killed," that's never a good sign. That was the lasting impression for many folks after Thursday night's preseason game, even if the blood was mostly on the hands of a pair of rookies.

Not surprisingly, the unit's performance has prompted a change, but not necessarily where you might think. Todd Herremans, who has started full time at left guard since 2006, will kick out to right tackle, where the Eagles have been searching for answers all summer. Evan Mathis, yet another of the team's less heralded free agent additions, will plug into Herremans' old spot.

Meanwhile, Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins will retain their positions as the club's center and right guard respectively.

Several scribes felt the Eagles' best possible line at this juncture would have Herremans outside, where King Dunlap started the past two weeks, and Mathis take over at left guard. Dunlap didn't appear to be a liability in either game, but the coaches are obviously more comfortable with the more experienced Herremans protecting Mike Vick's blindside.

Ryan Harris, who started week one, has been struggling with back issues, and denied a rumor he was headed for surgery. Winston Justice, who started the previous two seasons, remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Part of me doesn't like the decision, if only because it will break up a proven left side that looked dominant at times last season. It took Jason Peters and Herremans a year to develop that rapport, but they eventually formed the one area of the line that wasn't a question mark.

Having the veteran Mathis makes the move a little easier to swallow. A third round pick out of Alabama in 2005, Mathis has played for three teams, making 22 starts. He spent the last three seasons in Cincinnati, where although he was not a starter, some observers felt he measured better than the competition.

It's possible this is all makeshift until Justice is able to return, but if he begins the season on the PUP, that wouldn't be until Week 8 at the earliest. The Eagles' bye falls in Week 7.

As for the rest of the group, sticking with Kelce at center will be up for heavy scrutiny. We think he settled down nicely as Thursday's contest went on, and he looked like an absolute beast in the running game. However, they can't afford the kinds of lapses in protection that turned Vick into a tackling a dummy during the first quarter.

Kelce and Watkins did not appear to be on the same page at all. The front office is counting on Watkins, their first round pick, to step up his game and be ready for the regular season. There wouldn't appear to be a serious rush for Kelce though, with Jamaal Jackson healthy and still on the roster--for now.

The Eagles begin the season on the road, in loud domes at St. Louis and Atlanta. The Falcons have been almost unbeatable in their own building in recent years.

If Kelce can hold the line together, and build on his second quarter against the Browns, they should be fine, but that is admittedly a big if. If the team moves on from Jackson, McGlynn could still be an option there.

Otherwise, moving Herremans outside seems like it should do nothing but solidify a unit that has the potential to be vastly improved over last season. Of course, so far that's all it is--potential. The young players need to prove they can handle the NFL, while Herremans and Mathis will have to show us the tinkering was worthwhile.

>> Herremans to RT; Mathis to LG [Birds' Eye View]
>> Solution At Left Guard: Bring Back Mathis And Start Him [Cincy Jungle]

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

MRI on T.J. McConnell's wrist comes back negative; Nerlens Noel has ankle sprain

The Sixers will be without their starting point guard for the time being, as T.J. McConnell has left the team to return to Philadelphia to receive treatment for a right wrist strain and will miss Monday's game vs. the Bucks in Milwaukee.
 
An MRI taken on McConnell’s right wrist came back negative, according to Sixers coach Brett Brown.
 
“He has a strain,” Brown said. “There’s no structural damage. In relation to what that means with regards to his return to play, I don’t know that yet.”
 
McConnell is averaging 4.8 points and 5.4 assists in 38 games. He has started Philadelphia’s last seven games, a stretch during which the Sixers have gone 5-2.

With McConnell out, Sergio Rodriguez will start at point guard Monday against Milwaukee.

Rodriguez started 29 of the first 30 games he played this season, his first in the NBA since 2009-10. The 30-year-old is more of an offensive threat than the defensive-minded McConnell, averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 assists.  

“You immediately go to losing that defensive energy T.J. is known for,” Brown said. “Sergio is a more gifted scorer. T.J. is a more gifted defender. To have Nerlens (Noel) and Joel (Embiid) behind the scenes, we can make up some ground with Sergio.
 
“People understand Sergio’s pedigree. He’s a 30-year-old legend in Europe. He has a wealth of experience. He’s a medalist and an MVP of the Euro league. He also was our starting point guard for a while. We’re happy to give him back that responsibility.”

No Noel
In addition to McConnell, the Sixers on Monday will also be without the services of Nerlens Noel, who is dealing with a left ankle sprain. Noel came down with a season-high 12 rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Wizards.

Still restricted
Sixers center Joel Embiid will still be on a 28-minute restriction Monday against the Bucks.

Embiid sat out Saturday’s 109-93 loss to Washington after playing 28 minutes in a 102-93 win over Charlotte on Friday. He has reached 30 minutes just once in his 27 games this season.

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”