Flyers Looking to Avoid Lightning Strike in Tampa Bay

Flyers Looking to Avoid Lightning Strike in Tampa Bay

Now that the Flyers found their sea legs, they’ll be putting
their defenses to the test against one of the hottest offenses in the league. The
Tampa Bay Lightning are out to an early lead in goals scored in the Eastern
Conference, and are tied with the San Jose Sharks for first in the NHL in goals
per game, averaging 4.75.

Fueled by a potent offense, Tampa Bay is off to a Lightning-fast
start, their 3-1 record good for first place in the Southeast Division. The
early success has been predicated largely on their ability to light the lamp,
hanging a six-spot on two opponents in four games already, and dropping four on
another.

It should hardly come as a surprise given the name
recognition of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier, all multiple-time
All Stars that have made the Lightning a top-10 offensive club for years. Now
all of a sudden they are being aided by rookie Cory Conacher, an undrafted 23
year old from Canada who already has two goals and five assists playing
alongside the big boys.

The Flyers’ depth on the blue line will be under the
microscope. They held up well over the last two games, as Ilya Bryzgalov
surrendered a goal a piece against the dangerous New York Rangers and
shorthanded Florida Panthers. The new additions are generally holding up well,
including Luke Schenn who is tied for the NHL-lead in hits after landing 11 on
red sweaters Saturday night.

However, it will not be Bryzgalov in the crease tonight for
the Orange & Black, but rather Michael Leighton making his first start of
the season. It may be just as well. While Bryz is off to a fantastic start, he
did not fare well versus Tampa Bay a season ago, posting a 1-2-1 record to go
with an abysmal .814 save percentage – his worst against any opponent in
2011-12.

It could be a high-scoring battle regardless of who is in
net. As we mentioned at the top, the Lightning are dangerous on offense, but
they have had trouble keeping the opposition off of the scoreboard. Tonight’s
netminder is Anders Lindback, a second-year prospect out of the Nashville
Predators system. He’s off to a rough start in his first starting goaltender
gig in the NHL, allowing 3.67 goals per game.

Plus, Philadelphia’s old friend Matt Carle will be skating
against his old teammates. Maybe he can return the favor and slip one into his
own net tonight – you know, like old times.

In other news, the Flyers announced Scott Laughton will head
back to juniors,
ending the first rounder’s cup of coffee for the time being.
The team seems to be discovering the right combinations lately, and while
Laughton showed he can play, there doesn’t seem to be any need to press him
into the action at this juncture.

Puck drops at 6 p.m., and with a W, the Flyers can climb
back to .500 in what is already becoming a tightly contest Atlantic Division.

More: Watch Matt Read's hat trick and other highlights from Saturday night's 7-1 victory over the Panthers

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Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

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The Associated Press

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.

New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

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New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

It's a new year for the Eagles, but the same lowered expectations for Marcus Smith. The 2014 first-round pick recorded only seven tackles and 1½ sacks over his first two NFL seasons, so at this point you can forgive people for being pessimistic about his development.

Smith doesn't blame Eagles fans for being disappointed with his career up to this point. The 24-year-old isn't content with the way things have panned out thus far, either, but sounds as though he's ready to turn the page in a new scheme.

"I understand they want their first-round draft pick to play," Smith said of fan criticism. "I wanted to be on the field, but I wasn't. I learned a lot of things from my first to my second year and I think I've grown and matured a lot, and this third year you'll see a lot different Marcus."

That won't do much to sway public opinion that he's a draft bust. The Eagles, however, are hoping a position change will unlock the potential that led the club to take Smith with the 26th overall selection in the draft.

Smith came to the league a raw prospect to begin with, and was immediately asked to take on the many responsibilities of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In a 4-3 alignment under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the third-year pro will line up at defensive end, where he'll primarily be used to create disruptions in opposing backfields.

"This is a scheme that greatly limits what he's asked to do," Schwartz said. "Difficult in execution, but easy in theory. Should allow him to play fast, attack spots, give him a little bit less responsibility but hopefully allow him to make a greater impact.

"He's very athletic. He's got great size. He's done very well so far, but let's reserve judgment on any of these guys until we get pads on them."

Smith admits it's a role he was more accustomed to playing in college.

"I never really dropped into coverage before," Smith said reminiscing of his time at Louisville. "I dropped into coverage in some spurts, I knew how to do it, I was athletic enough to do it, but their thing was they wanted me to go rush the passer and be able to make plays. That's what I'm doing now."

This could be an opportunity for Smith to hit the reset button, in a manner of speaking. He was overwhelmed and couldn't get on the field in a complex 3-4. Schwartz's 4-3, on the other hand, is much more streamlined, letting linemen pin their ears back and do one thing well rather than force them to be jacks of all trades.

"I feel like with Jim Schwartz, we have a great relationship to where I can just go make plays and not think about anything," Smith said. "He always talks about that with me. He says, 'Just go make plays, I don't want you to think.'

"Scheme is definitely more simplified. It's really just go get the ball. His philosophy is hit the ball on the way to the quarterback because we know sacks change games, so if you get a sack fumble and you're able to scoop and score, that's what changes a game. That's what Schwartz's philosophy is."

Believe it or not, there might still be hope for Smith. His 1½ sacks were registered in the final two games of the 2015 season, a late surge that could've been seen as a sign of progress, yet wound up flying under the radar at the conclusion of a lost year. After all, it's not at all uncommon for some players to need a year or two to adjust to life in the NFL.

If Smith has any chance of shedding the dreaded bust label, he certainly has a perfect mentor in teammate Brandon Graham. The 13th pick in 2010, Graham experienced similar hardships when his Eagles career didn't get off to a brilliant start, but has since proven to be a capable starter.

Graham's situation wasn't identical, as his progress and opportunities were derailed in large part because of injury. Regardless, he understands as well anybody the lack of playing time and criticism that comes with failing to live up to high expectations.

"We talk pretty much every day," Smith says of his relationship with Graham. "He actually went through something worse than I did because he went through a couple of years with not playing. He talks to me about it all the time, and told me to keep my head down and keep working and everything will fall into place."

As of now, Smith is currently lining up opposite Graham with the second-team defense, behind Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry. The Eagles also used a seventh-round pick on Alex McAllister.

Still, despite the competition, despite his lack of production to date, Smith is keeping a positive outlook and feels as though he has every opportunity to be productive as part of a rotation.

"The way we play and how fast we play, [Schwartz] wants an eight-man rotation," Smith said. "He wants us to be able to be fresh. All of us can play 25-30 snaps a game. He wants us to be well-rested and ready to go because we're gonna be going.

"Whoever is starting, whoever's not starting, I think when you get in the game, just go get it. Once the coaches put you in the ballgame, you've just gotta be able to make plays."

There's no question Smith is running out of chances with the Eagles, that his reclamation story is already beginning to wear thin. The truth is his roster spot might even be in jeopardy if the roster was much deeper, and any contribution in 2016 will be viewed as a pleasant surprise.

There's also no question the physical ability is there. Smith is 6-foot-3 with sub-4.7 speed and told reporters he weighs close to 260 pounds. Point him in one direction with a singular goal — get into the backfield — and the Eagles may squeeze some production out of him yet.

NFC East: DeSean Jackson a no-show at Redskins' OTAs

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NFC East: DeSean Jackson a no-show at Redskins' OTAs

ASHBURN, Va. -- DeSean Jackson isn't taking part in voluntary team workouts, and the Washington Redskins don't seem to care.

Jackson was the only healthy player not at Redskins Park this week for the first organized team activities of the offseason. But teammates and coach Jay Gruden brushed off Jackson's notable absence, saying the veteran wide receiver knows how to get prepared.

"The last time I looked up the word `voluntary,' it is his choice," Gruden said Wednesday. "He's been in the league nine years I believe it is and he knows what type of shape he has to come in. Obviously last year he pulled his hamstring, and people are gonna say he was out of shape, but he wasn't really. I think he'll be ready to go."

Jackson missed six games last season after injuring his hamstring in the opener. After returning Nov. 8, he made 30 catches for 528 yards and four touchdowns.

The 29-year-old has one year left on his contract and is still expected to be a big part of Washington's offense with quarterback Kirk Cousins, tight end Jordan Reed and fellow receiver Pierre Garcon even after the Redskins drafted Josh Doctston out of TCU in the first round.

Veteran defensive back DeAngelo Hall said players understand Jackson's situation.

"As long as these guys are working I don't think we mind too much," Hall said. "Yes you want him here, but this is an offense he knows and he knows himself. When you have a guy that knows (himself), you kind of what them to train the way they want to train."

Cousins likes having OTAs to get on the same page with receivers and go over the nuances of running routes and recognizing coverages. He's the unquestioned starter for the first time, which he said gives him "permission to take ownership" of the team.

With that ownership, Cousins followed the theme of downplaying Jackson not being around.

"DeSean will get here," said Cousins, who's on a one-year deal with the franchise tag and had no update on long-term contract talks. "He was here the last few weeks and was able to work with us. He knows what's best for him and what he's gotta do to be ready this fall. I'm excited for whenever he does get here and expect to get a lot of work in."

Jackson must attend 90 percent of offseason workouts to earn a $500,000 bonus in his contract.

Hall said because Jackson's home is in California and with him having a newborn, it makes it easier to comprehend why he didn't make it to optional workouts. From the standpoint of the secondary that's trying to work in All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, it'd be nice to have Jackson on the field.

"I'm just excited about getting him out here, Josh is excited about getting him out here," said Hall, who was one of the first-team safeties along with David Bruton Jr. "We want to go against him. We're juiced up to get him out here."

Gruden joked that Jackson "popped in and had a cup of coffee" at the team's facility but otherwise expressed no real concerns. He also doesn't know when Jackson will make an appearance.

"He'll probably show up here, could be next week could be whenever," Gruden said.