The Return of Mike Vick

The Return of Mike Vick

After missing three games with a rib injury for the second consecutive season, Michael Vick returns to the lineup on Sunday to lead the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked against the Miami Dolphins. Although it's doubtful he can save their season, the next four weeks are very important for the Eagles quarterback anyway.

As Always, Your Postseason Update
Wouldn't it be funny if, after everything that's happened, the Eagles wind up making the playoffs? No? You've seen that one before? Well technically it is still possible. Here goes...

If the Birds win out, and neither the 7-5 Cowboys or 6-6 Giants finish better than 8-8, Philadelphia miraculously becomes division champs.

Sounds like a fairy tale in contrast with how they played all season, but you never know when Vick will capture lightning in a bottle. After Miami, the Eagles have the Jets (7-5), Dallas, and Washington (4-8) -- not a real imposing slate, so they'll play these out and hope for some help.

Vince Young, You're Fired
Regardless of whatever is left to play for, it doesn't seem like too many people will be sad to see VY back on the bench. There may not be a more unlikeable player on this team, and he bottomed out last week in Seattle, heaving four picks.

His stretch of relief probably wasn't as bad as how it will be remembered. All the same, we've seen enough.

Get What You Paid For
Even if the season were mathematically over -- and once it officially is -- Vick is the franchise quarterback. He doesn't get to hide on the shelf inside the trainer's room until the nightmare is over, pretending his 14 turnovers never happened.

Win or lose, Vick can still put on a show with the best of them. It's a show the fans have already paid their hard-earned money to see, and a show the Eagles are handing over sacks with dollar signs on them to Vick to perform.

Not that we're accusing Vick of ducking games. The man has a competitive spirit to rival the best, and if he can play, he wants on that field. This is just in case there is any notion out there the Eagles should shield him from further injury, and get ready for next year.

What Do We Have Here?
Last and perhaps most important, these final four games it's critical to evaluate Vick. There is no denying the sharp decline in the quarterback's play since he's taken over the job. He's gone from MVP-caliber to puzzling remarkably fast.

Vick is 3-8 over his last 11 starts, committing 19 turnovers during that span. By comparison, he's thrown or rushed for 15 touchdowns over the same stretch. On the whole, his passer rating has plummeted to 79.8 in 2011, only a few points better than what he posted for his career in Atlanta.

Obviously, Vick is coming back next season. His salary is fully guaranteed, and the very soonest they could even consider getting out from under his contract is 2013.

That scenario isn't out of the question though. If Vick doesn't elevate his play over these final four games, the Eagles have to give serious consideration to what the future at their quarterback position is. Given the prospect of a top 10 pick in April, they should even consider drafting somebody right away.

Which guy is he -- the one who energized the Eagles' record-setting offense for the first three-quarters of last season, or the guy who hasn't been able to get out of his own way ever since? The ball is back in Vick's hands now.

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

Phillie Phodder: Aaron Nola's health, Roman Quinn's status, closer job

READING, Pa. — Perhaps the most important issue facing the Phillies as they get set to open spring training is the health of pitcher Aaron Nola.

It won’t be possible to fully gauge the right-hander’s condition until he starts firing pitches against hitters in a competitive situation in February and March.

But less than a month before camp opens, Nola is optimistic that the elbow problems that forced him to miss the final two months of the 2016 season are resolved.

“I feel like the injury is past me,” he said during a Phillies winter caravan stop sponsored by the Double A Reading Fightin Phils on Tuesday night. “I feel back to normal.

“My arm is all good. One-hundred percent.”

Nola, 23, did not pitch after July 28 last season after being diagnosed with a pair of injuries near his elbow — a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon.

Nola and the team opted for a conservative treatment plan that included rest, rehab and a PRP injection. The pitcher spent much of the fall on a rehab program in Clearwater that included his throwing from a bullpen mound. He took a couple of months off and recently began throwing again near his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“All through the rehab, I had no pain,” Nola said. “Probably in the middle of the rehab, I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit. I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas and it felt really good when I cranked up. I’ve been throwing for a few weeks now. No pain, no hesitation. Not any of it.”

The Phillies selected Nola with the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft with the hopes that he would be a foundation piece in the rotation for many years. Nola ascended to the majors in the summer of 2015 and recorded a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 big-league starts before hitting severe turbulence last summer. He had a 9.82 ERA in his final eight starts of 2016 before injuring his elbow during his final start.

Nola said he would report to Clearwater on Feb. 1. He does not expect to have any limitations in camp.

Manager Pete Mackanin is eager to see what Nola looks like in Clearwater.

“There's a part of me that’s concerned,” Mackanin said. “When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. But I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels.”

Mackanin said he expected Nola to be in the five-man rotation along with Jeremy Hellickson, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz and Vince Velasquez to open the season. Mackanin also mentioned Zach Eflin and others as being in the mix. The Phillies have some starting pitching depth and that’s a plus because pitchers' arms are fragile. Nola was the latest example of that last season. He said he’s healthy now, but he'll still be a center of attention in spring training.

More seasoning for Quinn
Mackanin acknowledged that the addition of veteran outfielder Michael Saunders probably means that Roman Quinn will open the season in Triple A.

“I don’t think it’s in our best interest or [Quinn’s] to be a part-time player at the big-league level, so I would think if things stay the way they are and if Saunders is on the team, I think it would behoove Quinn to play a full year of Triple A,” Mackanin said. “We have to find out if he can play 120 or 140 games, which he hasn’t done up to this point. We hope he can because, to me, he’s a potential game changer.”

Morgan to the bullpen?
Mackanin suggested that lefty Adam Morgan could be used as a reliever in camp. The Phillies have just one lefty reliever (Joely Rodriguez) on their 40-man roster. If Morgan pitches well out of the bullpen, he could be a candidate to make the club. Non-roster lefties Sean Burnett and Cesar Ramos could also be in the mix.

Another chance for Gomez
Jeanmar Gomez saved 37 games in 2016 before struggling down the stretch and losing the closer’s job. Hector Neris finished up in the role.

So how will competition for the job shake out in Clearwater?

“I wouldn’t say it’s wide open,” Mackanin said. “I’m going to give Gomez every opportunity to show that he’s the guy that pitched the first five months and not the guy that pitched in September.”

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

PFF ranks Eagles' front seven as the second best in NFL

At times during the 2016 season, the Eagles' defense looked like the best unit in the league. And at other times … it didn't. 

By the end of the season, the Eagles averaged out to be a middle-of-the-road defense. And the way ProFootballFocus ranked it makes sense.

PFF ranked the Eagles' secondary as the absolute worst in the league, but in it's list of front sevens, released on Tuesday, the Eagles came in at No. 2 behind just Seattle. 

Here's what PFF said about the Eagles' front seven: 

"It was a difficult decision between the Eagles and the Seahawks for the No. 1 spot, as this front-seven propped up a hodge-podge secondary to form one of the league’s most effective defenses for a good portion of the season. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox finished with the third- and fourth-highest pass-rushing productivity marks at their respective positions. Philadelphia’s front-seven also features a budding star in second-year linebacker Jordan Hicks, who led all players at the position with five interceptions."

Graham received the highest grade among the Eagles' front seven with a 93.3, while Connor Barwin received the worst at 42.1. Graham was the only Eagles player to make the PFF All-Pro team this year. To prove that stats don't always tell the full story, Graham finished with a half sack more than Barwin (6 1/2 to 6). 

While the Eagles' cornerback trio of Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Jalen Mills ranked 79th, 107th and 120th out of 120, respectively, their players across the front seven were much, much better. 

Hicks was ranked as the seventh-best middle linebacker and Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks were both top-10 outside linebackers in 4-3 defenses. Graham was the top-ranked 4-3 defensive end and Cox was the fifth-best interior lineman.