Philadelphia Redemption, Jake The Snake and Your FGSB Mailbag

Philadelphia Redemption, Jake The Snake and Your FGSB Mailbag

As a hockey fan, the internet sucks from July 15 to September 10, or thereabouts. After the Free Agent Frenzy dies down and before players start trickling into town with new haircuts and 10 more pounds of muscle, writers have to dig deep into their bag of tricks to come up with content that all too often materializes in the form of a Top 10 list or Best Dick Goal of the Year slideshow.

It’s strange then that during the slowest news cycle is when I get most excited for the upcoming season.

You know what August 8th smells like? Hope. In small towns and big cities across the world professional hockey players have completely done away with the notion of summer. The off-ice training has intensified and the on-ice stick practice has begun. No longer is Claude Giroux a local celebrity at the bar every Thursday, but a man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope we'll win the Cup this season. I hope I’ll snipe 30 goals. I hope I’ll hit 100 points. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

There may not be much going on in terms of score sheets, injuries, line combinations and controversy. But even though I try to temper my excitement at this time of year visions of Vinny LeCavalier celebrating a goal with a 40 on his neon orange back keep popping into my head.

The standings and their 2013-14 are stats are as clean and pure as a freshly cut sheet of ice. Half of the guys haven’t played a competitive game of hockey in 4 months. The older guys verge on sentimental and the younger guys are nothing but hungry to prove themselves as they each begin really preparing in their similar but in the end drastically different ways.

Personally, I hope the Flyers win the Metro this season. I hope Claude Giroux leads the NHL in scoring. I hope Steve Hartnell nets 40 goals. I hope Ray Emery and Steve Mason draw comparisons to last year’s Blackhawks. I hope I look forward to watching games after the Olympics. I hope…

FGSB Mailbag

Me first. Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself internally for the past couple years instead of going to church on Sunday – would Jake The Snake Roberts' tactics have been allowed in the NHL of the ‘80’s? For those of you that don’t know, this wrestler (fake) used to come down to the ring with a brown canvas sack that had a snake (real) in it every freaking match! He would put it in his corner and you’d try to watch the wrestling but there was a SNAKE IN THE BAG (maybe that was inspiration for Snakes on a Plane, actually). Anyway, the imminent threat of this 6’6 dude putting this giant Python on anyone was enough to make me black out from fear before the match ever ended. My parents would come into the living room and find me splayed out on the floor in my Transformers (original) underoos and a Macho Man head band on the reg, which I think is why I started off going to school in a trailer. Anyway part deux, if you ever saw the NHL in the 80’s you know that it was an anything-goes type of league back then. There were guys with helmets, guys without helmets. There was no Instigator Rule so dudes would literally jump other dudes and just beat the piss out of them. There was Brian Propp doing the guffaw. There was fighting in warm ups… So, if during warm ups Dave Brown, or Jake Roberts himself had he learned how to skate, brought out a brown canvas bag and just dropped it at the red line, would anyone have done anything? Would guys have freaked? Would John Ziegler have come out of the stands and chopped its head off? Guess that’s the kind of thing you have to wait to find out in Heaven…

@Mager_Pls do you think Mac truck Schenn plays as well as he did last season?
Did he play well last season? Because from what I remember the Flyers are a team. And on a team, one part is only as good as the whole. And the whole sucked and missed the playoffs. So if you’re under the impression (I’m yelling now but not using caps) that anyone played “well” last season, then you are exactly what is wrong with this organization, this city, and America!

Jake Voracek had a pretty decent year, actually. He scored lotsa goals.

@CaseOfDanglitis why was prongs not wearing shoes?
Wow. Good eye. I actually didn’t notice that, probably because I don’t have a foot fetish. Some things I did notice are

1. Why blur out the names when you’re just going to talk about them all and point to them? Yes, we get that you LUV Samuel Morin and had him ranked very high, and you would consider him a steal based on where you got him. If you’re going to mention players 5-10 on your chart by name, and then point at them and say where you’re moving them, then just show them.

2. I know you get shot for mentioning Moneyball on a sports blog, but wasn’t that scene SO MUCH like Moneyball? “He’ll hit ya with his stick I tell ya!” “He knows what he’s going to be and he’s going to be it!” “I saw him drinking a coffee and he didn’t even blow on it to cool it down – kid’s MEEAAAANNNN.”

3. There were meetings prior to this one, as noted by Chris Pryor – who I’d be fine going through my life never meeting. But this final get together didn’t seem all that organized, did it? I mean, if they got a proper system in there and actually put in a process to rank the prospects based on weighted points-per-scout then they wouldn’t even need a final meeting where Chris Pryor had to yell at all the guys to tell him what he wanted to hear. Is this right? IS THIS RIGHT? I’m going to move this guy. Would that be right? WOULD. THAT. BE. RIGHT?

It’s a good start but it didn’t really show much. Or much of anything that anyone wanted to see, to be more specific. Except for one person who apparently was eager to see Chris Pronger’s dogs. And the simple answer to the question is that Chris Pronger does what he wants. If he wants a puck he takes it. If he wants to kick off his shoes, even if it was in the middle of a Congressional hearing, the shoes come off.

Rick: I’m headed to Maine for vacation to a place where there are no tvs. In 2013. Give me a hockey vacation book rec. Gimme.
You literally (ha) cannot go wrong with a Roy MacGregor book. He was once called Canada’s Poet Laureate of hockey (or something) for good reason. Dude is an excellent writer and captures the essence of the game perfectly. People will tell you to read The Game, which is for good reason the seminal work on sports to date, but they’re also telling you “I’m smarter than you.” That is a deep, rich book. If you’re on vacation Road Games is just plain awesome, Wayne Gretzky’s Ghost is capturing, and The Home Team is a book he also wrote.

The Last Season is about a fictitious Canadian kid who makes it big and wins two Cups as a member of your Broad Street Bullies. It’s actually more about his rise to and then fall from the NHL. It’s Shamalanian, but it’s a long route up a dirt road to get there.

Ourtweet Breakdown of the Week


The other day the only Flyers writer with a Flyers tattoo Anthony San Fillipo, asked for recommendations for upcoming episodes of the Flyers new web series Flight Plan. For those of you that have jobs, you missed out on some retro-awesome FGSB coffee-fueled fun. Here are, looking back, our Top 10 suggestions (TOP TEN!):

10. Matt Reading Rainbow
9. Flyers Wipeout
8. Nick Cage shows Flyers how to steal Declaration of Independence
7. Two words: Flyers. Karaoke.
6. Jake Voracek and Cloode Giroux recreate pot throwing scene from ghost. Grossmannnnn signs Unchained Melody.
5. Flyers surprise game against Team Comcast '99s
4. Take Flyers to random office. See who can sit in cubicle the longest.
3. Flyers play the Eagles in football, Phillies in baseball, and Royce White in basketball all in the same day #Champadelphia
2. Flyers Fantasy Football Draft coverage, hosted by Steve Coates
…….
1. Flyers SVU

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runer instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of (defenders) kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second-lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

Patience being tested after Phillies' embarrassing 10-run loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Wednesday was a miserable day for the Phillies, but there was one winner among the group.

Bench coach Larry Bowa was ejected from the game in the fourth inning, sparing him from having to watch a full dose of the carnage that befell the team in an embarrassing 11-1 loss to the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).

Manager Pete Mackanin wasn’t as fortunate as Bowa. He had to stick around for all nine innings as Zach Eflin struggled through a poor start and the weak-hitting Phillies came within an out of being shut out for the second straight game.

“He was mad at the umpire,” Mackanin said of Bowa. “He couldn't control himself. He had to let it out.

“In this game, when you win, you get giddy. When you lose, you want to hang yourself. You have to stay even keeled. You have to stay consistent. At least I have to. I have to try to stay consistent emotionally. 

“I used to be more emotional when I was younger. Over time, I just learned that it doesn't do you any good. My fate is left in the hands of the players.”

The players have not performed all that well since coming back from the All-Star break. Wednesday’s loss dropped the club to 4-9 since the break, dropping it to 11 games under .500. The Phils are averaging just 2.6 runs per game over that span and the pitching has been spotty. The baserunning, particularly by Cesar Hernandez, has been poor, as well.

“This game is all about consistency,” Mackanin said. “Repeating your delivery. Showing plate discipline. Not getting yourself out. Making the plays. Doing the little things on a consistent basis. Over the course of 162 games, the teams that do these things the best are the best teams.”

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Phillies to 2-4 on the first two legs of this 10-game trip. But all is not lost. The Phils play the Braves in Atlanta the next four days. The Braves have the worst record in the majors.

“We're going to Atlanta,” said Mackanin, not realizing he was about to damn his club with faint praise. “I think we have a good chance to compete against Atlanta to end the month on a positive note.”

The Phils came up short offensively and on the mound Wednesday. Actually, they had 10 hits, but only one was for extra bases, and they left 10 men on base while getting just one hit in eight chances with a runner in scoring position. (The Phils were 2 for 21 in those situations in the series.) Marlins lefty Adam Conley pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and pitched out of bases-loaded trouble twice.

Eflin was hit hard early. The Marlins scored three runs in the first inning, two on a scorching two-run homer to left by Giancarlo Stanton. The bruising line drive left Stanton’s bat at 112 mph.

In all, Eflin was tagged for nine hits, including the homer and a pair of triples, and seven runs in five innings. Mackanin said Eflin “was not the same guy” that pitched a three-hit shutout in his previous start at Pittsburgh.

“I didn't like the mix of pitches he used,” Mackanin said. “We were hoping he'd use his curveball a little bit more. I thought he made some good pitches that the umpire missed. But that wasn't the reason. He just wasn't the same guy. We stranded 10 runners — had some chances to get something going but couldn't capitalize.”

Eflin was grazed on his pitching hand by a pitch during batting practice Tuesday, but said that did not affect him at all.

“I was just up with everything,” he said. “I wasn't executing. That's what it came down to. I was leaving all my pitches up in the zone and didn't give my team the best chance to win the ballgame. I didn't do my job. I've got to work on being consistent and staying down in the zone.”

Eflin is just 22. He had a 1.80 ERA in four previous starts in the month of July. He will be right back out there when his turn in the rotation comes up again next week.

But Mackanin seems to be losing patience with others. He laughed when a reporter asked him if it was time for a lineup shakeup.

“What do you think?” Mackanin said with some exasperation. “We've faced some tough pitching lately. It's an up-and-down season. That's the type of team we have. We don't have consistency in the lineup. Let's put it that way. That doesn't bode that well.”

Riding out a rebuild means Mackanin doesn’t have a whole lot of options at his disposal. He probably will have a new face to put in the lineup Thursday night in Atlanta, though. It appears as if Peter Bourjos will go on the disabled list and Aaron Altherr will be activated (see story). Altherr was projected to start in the outfield until blowing out his wrist in spring training. He is healthy now (see story). Maybe he can bring a spark to a lineup that has been mostly lifeless since the All-Star break.