"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

Last night, I was all set to fix the final installment of our draft preview, but instead, I called an audible to insist the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb. Sure, it was pure fantasy. The NFL won't allow player trades tonight (swapping picks is LEGAL however), despite the fact that the lockout ended three nights ago. Not sure what grounds they have to prevent teams from doing business now, particularly over rights to a player who is already under contract, but I digress.

The final part was supposed to be about what the team's most pressing need is entering the first round of the draft tonight, and the answer might surprise you. We talked about the black hole at cornerback, and the continued regression on the right side of the offensive line, and a day one pick on either of those positions would be one well used. I can think of one area though where adding a first round talent may have an even greater impact on the Eagles in 2011, and beyond.

Last year, the Eagles jumped up 11 spots to select DE Brandon Graham, and people wondered why that didn't solve their problems pressuring quarterbacks with the front four. Trent Cole recorded double digit sacks for the third time in four years, so why do these problems persist? Was Graham a bust? He didn't record a very large number of sacks, but these stats on hurries suggest he was having a promising rookie season before his injury. So what is it?

Maybe part of it was the technique employed by former defensive line coach Rory Segrest, and is something that will work itself under the direction of Jim Washburn.

I'm not ready to discount personnel yet... but the problem may not be at end.

In '05 and '06, the Eagles used consecutive firsts on defensive tackles, selecting Mike Patterson 31st and Brodrick Bunkley 14th. From that point on, the defense has been solid in the interior, and when they've had any respectable play at middle linebacker, very difficult to run against between the tackles. However, Patt and Bunk both have been largely disappointing as pass rushers, and their inability to get virtually any penetration is making life more difficult on the edges, and really, everywhere else.

Bunkley will be a free agent next year, and so far, he's given management little reason to consider a contract extension. Antonio Dixon was elevated to starter in Week 5 last season, and he played well, but the former undrafted free agent was more effective against the run. And just when you thought maybe the Eagles would consider adding an Albert Haynesworth in free agency, he had a pair of pretty serious criminal charges brought against him.

Everybody can probably agree this is a need position, but greater than corner or right tackle? It's certainly debateable. Still, once free agency begins, the Eagles will have a shot at a number of excellent cornerbacks, and while the offensive line has some issues, better decision making under center can negate those to an extent.

To be fair, Haynesworth isn't the only quality interior lineman that will be available when free agency opens, but there are arguably fewer difference makers there than at any other position in the NFL. With that kind of limited availability, the Eagles should be proactive and draft one... if the right player is there. With all that in mind, my hope for the Birds' pick tonight is either Illinois' Corey Liuget (6-2, 298), Baylor's Phil Taylor (6-3, 334), or Temple's own Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315).

Unfortunately, the top two tackle prospects (Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus) will be long gone before the 23rd selection, and likely even out of range in a trade up. Even Liuget could go much higher than this, as there is always a premium on defensive linemen in the draft, but the Birds should have a shot at one of the three. Admittedly, I don't know a ton about any of these players, on the count of I often work on Saturdays, and therefore don't get to watch as much college ball as I'd like. All of the above would seemingly fill the general need though.

For what it's worth, I don't think the Eagles could go wrong with either a corner or offensive lineman in the first round, or even another defensive end. However, as the old saying goes, it all begins up front. For far too long, the Eagles have been content with merely not losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. What they need are the pieces to win that fight, and finally give opposing quarterbacks that unsettling feeling when a 300-plus pounder is heading straight for them.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

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Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

Sixers 'all over the place' different without Ben Simmons

CAMDEN, N.J. — It has been over three weeks since Ben Simmons suffered an acute Jones fracture in his right foot during the final scrimmage of training camp. The Sixers had constructed schemes around the rookie point-forward and watched unconventional lineups play out at Stockton University.

Those “can’t-wait-to-see” situations have been delayed to “wait-and-see” as Simmons recovers.

“Where do you begin?” Brett Brown said after practice Sunday. “I could talk for three days on what’s different without Ben Simmons. It’s all-over-the-place different. The core values of how you want to do different things there remain the same, but the whole landscape changed.”

This week was supposed to be the debut of a new-look system featuring a player who could influence the game with his versatility and athleticism. Brown even had experimented with pairing Simmons and Dario Saric at the two and three positions. Instead, the Sixers once again will start a regular season shorthanded by injuries.

Simmons was projected to start at power forward and also handle point responsibilities. His multitasking lessened the need for the Sixers to find a standout point guard this summer. They signed veteran Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, who is returning to the NBA for his second stint.

Bayless was expected to start, with the intention of Simmons running the floor at times. Now, neither can play. Bayless has been sidelined by a ligament injury in his left wrist. The Sixers announced on Friday that Bayless will have a non-surgical rehab and will be reevaluated in two weeks.

Brown on Sunday was undecided on whether Rodriguez or second-year point guard T.J. McConnell would start at the one on opening night.

“He was going to be one of the primary ballhandlers,” Brown said of Simmons. “And with that, floor spots and spacing and how you actually set this thing up changes dramatically.”

The players also have noticed a change without Simmons in the backcourt. Joel Embiid, playing his first season after missing the past two with foot injuries, found himself struggling with his shot selection early on in the preseason. He got glimpses in camp of how Simmons could improve that.

“He’s such a big presence and he’s really important to us,” Embiid said. “He just makes plays. I’ve been rushing shots and that’s where it comes in play. Someone like him can help me get better shots because he can get me easy baskets.”

Simmons’ absence also fast-forwarded Saric’s transition in his first NBA season. The injuries to Simmons and Jahlil Okafor (right knee) have pushed Saric into the starting power forward role during the preseason. The rookie has been learning on the go in a new league.

“He has been thrown into the fire,” Brown said of Saric last week (see story).

Simmons recently went through a two-week, post-operative exam and had sutures removed. He is working on day-to-day rehab with the Sixers' staff while also spending time talking with Brown. The team is implementing a multi-faceted recovery program of education, health and shot improvement.

This includes meeting with Brown to break down his game — where it is now and where it can develop in the future. Brown wants to make sure Simmons knows the ins and outs of the system so he is best prepared to begin his rookie season once cleared to play.

“I think that part of my excitement is I get with Ben every day while we’re here and go into my office for half-an-hour and it’s like basketball-NBA 101,” Brown said.

That’s one aspect of Simmons’ injury for which Brown can prepare.