Flyers Will Look to Build On Bryz's Hot Streak On Long Island

Flyers Will Look to Build On Bryz's Hot Streak On Long Island

The Flyers are coming off one of their most complete wins of the season, a contest in which they created offensive pressure, took advantage of opportunities, and shut down the Devils attack in front of a third-straight shutout from Ilya Bryzgalov. Oh, and Danny Briere finally found the back of the net, albeit an empty netter. Whatever it takes to get him going again.

They'll take on the Islanders tonight up on Long Island as Bryz looks to continue his stellar run in net.

Not to get ahead of our *KNOCK KNOCK* selves a bit, but Bryzgalov could put himself atop some rare company if he throws down another shutdown performance this evening. Bryz's current shutout streak stands at 196:13, just about a half hour short of the Flyers record of 227:40 set by John Vanbiesbrouck back in 1999. Hopefully there will be some high fives midway through the second period and more importantly at the end of the night.

Bryz will be tested by the Islanders, specifically scoring threat John Tavares who has been on a tear of late, notching three points in a shootout loss to the Capitals on Wednesday night while reaching the 30-goal plateau. He has also scored in three-straight games, netting four goals and six points over that span.

The Flyers have weathered some challenges from the Isles this season, and they'll aim to improve upon their 3-1-1 record against them in tonight's season series finale.

7:00 puck drop on CSN from the lovely Nassau Coliseum. Hopefully the Flyers can prevent the Islanders from smelling the Roses and get a little Nassau Jam going this evening.

Sproles has two good years left, wants to retire an Eagle

Sproles has two good years left, wants to retire an Eagle

As Darren Sproles walked through the Eagles’ indoor practice bubble early Friday morning, shortly after signing a one-year contract extension, head coach Doug Pederson met the Pro Bowler with a big hug and a bigger smile. 

Then, Sproles took a few steps farther and began to return faux punts, flashing the same quickness and ability he's shown the NFL for over a decade. 

As training camp is well underway, this will be Sproles’ 11th NFL season. In a sport and position where 30 is the wrong side of the hill, the 33-year-old running back found another payday, in an extension that is reportedly worth $4.5 million. Despite a limited role in the Eagles’ offense last year, he’s gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls as a returner and doesn’t appear finished yet.  

How many good years does he have left? 

“Two,” Sproles answered. “This year and next year.”

Does that mean he’s going to retire after the 2017 season? 

“We gonna see,” he said. “We gonna see.”

Sproles was drafted in the fourth round in 2005 by San Diego, where he spent the first six years of his career. From there, he had three electrifying years in New Orleans before joining the Eagles and Chip Kelly before the 2014 season. 

The dynamic weapon wants Philly to be his final stop. It’s important for him to finish his career with the Eagles because he loves his teammates, he said. His new deal might make that possible. 

“A lot. A lot,” Sproles said when asked what the extension meant to him. “When I’m done playing I’m gonna be an Eagle.”

Sproles, you might remember, skipped the voluntary portion of the Eagles’ offseason this spring for what was termed a family matter. On Friday, he said his absence had nothing to do with his contract, although the two sides had been working on it for a while. 

What does it say, that the Eagles gave him this much money, at this point in his career? 

“I got some tread on the tires,” Sproles said. 

“When you talk about leadership, work ethic, character and then production, he’s made the last two Pro Bowls, he exemplifies everything we want to be,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “As we look at it, he’s so important to this team on and off the field, it was a no-brainer from our prospective.”

Last season, Sproles was frustrated by his role in Kelly’s offense. He was still productive as a returner – taking two more punts back to the house, four in two seasons – but on offense, wasn’t as dynamic. As a rusher his yards-per-attempt dropped drastically from 5.8 to 3.8 from his first to second year as an Eagle.

Aside from that, he just wasn’t involved as much in the gameplan. In 2016, he had 26 fewer rushing attempts than 2015 and 15 fewer receptions. 

Sproles thinks his role will be different under a new coaching staff headed by Pederson. 

“We got a couple of things up our sleeve,” Sproles said. 

With two more seasons in Philly, Sproles can continue to climb up some all-time lists. His 17,903 all-purpose yards rank 11th in NFL history. His 10,889 kick and punt return yards rank seventh in NFL history. And his nine career return touchdowns rank sixth in NFL history. 

Two more good years, he said. 

“I tell you what, anytime, in my opinion, that you can have a playmaker like Darren Sproles and you can keep him locked up for a couple years, it makes you feel good,” Pederson said. “I’m just so happy for him and his family and the work that Howie put it to make sure this thing got done. Just so excited to have him here and look forward to working with him in this training camp and obviously during the season.” 

And one more season after that.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies-Braves 5 things: New-look middle of the order settling in

Phillies (47-57) at Braves (35-67)
7:35 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

Fresh off Thursday's 7-5 win at Turner Field, the Phillies will try to get a win streak going when they battle the Braves on Friday night in the second game of a four-game set in Atlanta. Let's take a closer look at the matchup with five things to know before first pitch.

1. Power alley
When your offense is slumping this season, there's nothing like a trip to Atlanta to face the MLB-worst Braves to get your bats going again. That's just what happened to the Phils on Thursday night at Turner Field.

After scoring just five runs total during their three-game series in Miami earlier this week, the Phillies exploded for seven runs in the first five innings against the Braves on Thursday before holding on for the victory.

Sure, the Braves are terrible, to put it bluntly. But there's no way to not be encouraged by how the middle of the Phillies' order produced on Thursday. The 3-4-5 hitters - Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph and Aaron Altherr - combined to go 6 for 14 with six RBIs. That includes a homer from each player.

Altherr is the key here. His wrist injury cost him the first 102 games of the season. Yes, just one game of his 2016 season is in the books, but he'll be locked into one spot in the middle of the order for the next little bit as the Phillies will want to see if he can produce like he did toward the end of last season when he hit five homers and drove in 22 runs in 39 games. If Altherr can produce, the Phils will have a legitimate middle of the order for the first time in what seems like forever and will allow Franco and Joseph to see more pitches as opposing pitchers won't have the option to work around them anymore.

No better way to for this new-look middle of the lineup to settle in than with four straight games against these Braves.

2. Vince on the road
Let's take a quick, bare-bones look at Vince Velasquez's numbers this season.

He's sporting an 8-2 record with a 3.34 ERA. Pretty good, right? Right.

But let's take a deeper look at his numbers, more specifically, his road numbers. Away from Citizens Bank Park this season, the 24-year-old flamethrower is 4-1 but has a 4.89 ERA. The record is great, but the ERA, well, not so much. His ERA at home this season is a razor-thin 1.50.

In his last start, Velazquez labored through six innings, giving up four runs while throwing 107 pitches in a 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh last week. It was a continuation of a road trend for Velasquez this season that sees him throw a ton of pitches in a limited amount of innings. In nine road starts this season, Velasquez is averaging 92 pitches in just over five innings per start.

He's only averaging just over two walks in his road starts, so location hasn't been too much of an issue. But teams are averaging just under seven hits a game against Velasquez on the road. An average of seven hits against in five innings a game is a lot.

Velasquez has to start putting hitters away on the road. Facing a Braves offense that's tied for second-worst in the majors (with the Phillies and Rays) with a .240 average could be a good way to get back on track.

3. Hello again, Mr. Jenkins
Friday night's matchup in Atlanta marks the second time the Phillies will see Braves starter Tyrell Jenkins this season.

Jenkins, a 24-year-old righty who was a first-round compensatory pick of St. Louis in 2010 and then was acquired by the Braves in the 2014 deal involving Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller, made his first career start when he took the hill at Citizens Bank Park on July 6. In that game, Jenkins gave up a run in 4 2/3 innings pitched. He only threw 64 pitches, but the Braves didn't want to overwork him because he had pitched out of the bullpen in his previous five appearances. The Phillies went on to win that game when Freddy Galvis hit a go-ahead homer in the bottom of the eighth inning.

He's a ground-ball pitcher known for having a fastball in the 92-95mph range. He'll be looking for his first big-league win on Friday night. Last time out, he was shelled by the Rockies when he gave up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings at Coors Field. Not many have a nice Coors Field debut.

4. Keep an eye on...
Phillies: Let's go with Cody Asche. With Andres Blanco and Peter Bourjos both now on the disabled list, Asche could be the most tradeable Phillie not named Jeremy Hellickson as we inch toward the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline. That fact comes even more into focus as Nick Williams continues to tear the cover off the ball in Triple A while starting the majority of the last few weeks in left field (see this week's Future Phillies Report), which just happens to be where Asche plays. But Asche isn't doing his trade value any favors lately as he's hitting just .100 (4 for 40) with two RBI since the All-Star break.

Braves: There isn't much to write home about when it comes to these Braves, but Freddie Freeman continues to burn Phillies pitching. In 104 career games against the Phils, Atlanta's first baseman is batting .297 with 13 homers and 63 RBI. He went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI on Thursday night.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have won six consecutive games against their NL East rival from Atlanta. It’s their longest win streak against the Braves since winning eight in row from July 2011 to May 2012.

• Ryan Howard has 22 career home runs at Turner Field, most of any visiting player in the ballpark’s history. It remains to be seen when the next time Howard will get a chance to extend that record.

• Cameron Rupp has batted just .101 since the All-Star break, but he’s hit .304 against the Braves this season.

Eagles position battle briefs: Rueben Randle, wide receivers

Eagles position battle briefs: Rueben Randle, wide receivers

For a player who flew under the radar in free agency, Rueben Randle is quickly showing the potential to be a major addition to the Eagles offense.

We're only a couple of days into training camp, and it should be noted Randle is one of several wide receivers seeing reps with the first-team offense. That being said, the fifth-year veteran has been very active thus far, especially during Friday's practice.

Randle made two tough catches in particular, of the variety Eagles wideouts frequently dropped last season.

First, he extended his arms away from his body and plucked a ball out of the air on a well-timed out route, then maintained possession while cornerback Leodis McKelvin swatted at the ball multiple times. A few plays later, Randle hauled in a pass that was thrown a little behind him, with impressive rookie Jalen Mills draped all over his back no less.

The Eagles desperately need reliable receivers to emerge from this camp. While it's only been two practices, Randle is already making a case for nice-sized role in this offense.

Signed to a one-year contract two weeks into free agency, Randle gained a reputation for having a poor demeanor while a member of the New York Giants. The club were unhappy enough to let the former second-round draft pick walk in free agency despite some decent production.

Randle's receptions and yards totals would've been good for second on the Eagles offense each of the past two seasons. Between 2014 and '15, he posted 128 catches for 1,735 yards and 11 touchdowns — granted while lining up opposite All-Pro Odell Beckham Jr. and with two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning throwing him the football.

Regardless, at 6'2", 208 pounds, Randle adds some size to the Eagles receiving corps, and at age 25, his best days could still be ahead of him. With Jordan Matthews still expected to see a lot of work in the slot, Randle appears to be battling 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor and third-year veteran Josh Huff for playing time on the outside.

In that mix, people are starting to like Randle's odds to be a regular player in this offense. Head coach Doug Pederson seems to be pleased with the veteran presence the offseason addition brings to the table as well.

Again, we stress that it's very early into camp, and this is no slight against the other receivers on the roster, but Randle's stock has been on the rise seemingly since the day he signed with the Eagles.