Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

Represent: Flyers All-Stars Set to Rock in Ottawa at 4

I don't know if it's my age or something going on in the sports themselves, but it feels like all-star games have taken a sharp downturn in terms of importance to fans in recent years. The NFL's Pro Bowl has long been somewhat laughable. The NBA All-Star Game is more spectacle than sport. Major League Baseball's Midsummer Classic attempted to inject relevance and competition by tying its outcome to a significant postseason element, and in so doing, pissed off the purists in its ranks.

Like the sport itself, the NHL's All-Star Game is something seemingly strictly for its own diehard fans, with little attention from outside media outlets or casual fans. Adding the element of a pair of captains choosing the sides gave it some new life last season though, and new media have also shown us more of how much the players enjoy the weekend. The league and the team have done a great job of posting videos and first-hand accounts to their own sites, which is fitting because the All-Star Game is a celebration of the simple fact that there is a league at all. No score is settled, no permanent rivalry revisited. Just players playing the game.

This season's game is a pretty special one for Flyers fans though, with three veterans and a pair of rookies representing Philadelphia up in Ottawa. So far, it's been a perfect representation, too.

Claude Giroux's presence is that of one of the league's truly elite forwards. The Flyers have had scoring depth in season after season, but it's been a long time since they had this kind of star power at the top. Scott Hartnell's All-Star story may trump G's though.

Philly loves an underdog, and to say Hartnell was a long shot for playing in this weekend when the season started is a bit of an understatement. But I think just about everyone would agree that since that time, he's flat out earned the opportunity to be recognized among the league's best players in the first half. And it certainly seems like he's enjoying it.

Harts has, unsurprisingly, had a life-of-the-party presence in Ottawa, tweeting his self-deprecation and appreciation throughout the weekend. And, in the skills competition, he showed that he's here because he is in fact skilled, not just a skilled pest. He and Giroux made sure to salute the linemate that helped them both get to Ottawa (see that, plus Hartnell's skill on the one-timers and a sweet breakway move by Sean Couturier in the video below).

Earlier this season, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun called Kimmo Timonen underappreciated. I'm not sure I'd agree with that being the case in Philly. It's nearly impossible to find a fan who has anything but appreciation for the Finnish veteran. We all know how much trouble the team would be in without him, and we're proud to see him still among the league's elite. Most of the All-Stars are pretty young, and Kimmo can still skate with them in any game.

After old man Timonen, the veteran Hartnell, and rising star Giroux, there are two very talented rookies showing the league that the future is bright in Philly. Couturier has played his ass off as a rookie, filling every role asked of him from checking line and PK duties to high lining and power plays. Matt Read finally found an NHL home, and a bunch of other franchises are kicking themselves for passing him up both in the draft and a handful of training camps.

SOME WTF IN THE LINES
At 4PM today, Giroux and Hartnell will be on one side, with Timonen on another, a fun if somewhat awkward twist. G's line will be centering Logan Couture and Steven Stamkos. Hartnell will skate with the Sedin twins. Goalies will rotate every period. Defense will lay off to the degree that "checks" should be listed in drinking games.

A LITTLE MAGIC LEFT IN THE TANK
Growing up, I loved All-Star weekend. I was a big NHL fan, loving the Flyers first and foremost, but having plenty of favorites in other cities as well. The Winter Classic and 24/7 have been a good reminder of the fact that their guys are human too, and Hartnell acknowledged the same effect hitting him as he had a blast with some rival Rangers up in Ottawa.

The score won't matter today, but we'll still be rooting for the Flyers to show 'em well. And for a #hartnelldown or two...

Stephen Tulloch gets feet wet, thinks Eagles could have top-ranked D

Stephen Tulloch gets feet wet, thinks Eagles could have top-ranked D

INDIANAPOLIS – Veteran Stephen Tulloch made his Eagles debut Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium … late in the second half.

Tulloch, 31, was just signed earlier in the week. And after years of being a starter in the NFL, Tulloch comes to Philadelphia as role player. 

When was the last time he played in the fourth quarter of a preseason game?

“Wow. Two thouuusaaandd,” he said, trying to think. “Six, maybe … seven. But I didn’t have any training camp here, so it’s good to be out here and just run around.”

On one of Tulloch’s first plays of the night he was called for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness, and didn’t appear on the stat sheet otherwise after playing 19 snaps. Still, he was happy just to be back on the field. 

After spending all of training camp on the street and missing the first two preseason games, this was his first real football action in a long time. And he didn’t feel much rust. 

“Not really, man,” he said. “Just get my feet back under me again. It’s just different. I haven’t played since Jan. 3, but to get out there and see the calls and get familiarized with everything.”

There isn’t too much with which to get familiarized since Tulloch is not just a veteran of the NFL but also Jim Schwartz’s defense. He played in it in Tennessee and then Detroit. In fact, it’s what made it possible for him to even see the field during Saturday’s 33-23 win. 

How did the defense look to him? 

“The same way it always looks when my man Schwartz puts it together,” he said. “It’s very simple. He’s going to work to the guys’ strengths and it’s always been a productive defense as long as I’ve been a part of it. He has the talent here, the talent on this team, to be able to execute the defense.”

Aside from the defense on the field, there was something else familiar about Saturday night. As a MIKE linebacker, he had the earpiece in his helmet, which means direct communication with Schwartz. 

“You know how Jim is, he’s going to make sure you know everything,” Tulloch said. “Not just give you the call, but tell you what to look out for. He’s a madman when it comes to that. He’s studying film, he knows to look for certain down and distances. It’s good to have him back in my ear again.”

In his six seasons under Schwartz, Tulloch was a piece in two top-10 defenses, so he’s seen this scheme work at a high level. 

Now that he’s been with the Eagles for a few days and has seen what they have to offer, he thinks this defense should be a very good one. 

“A lot of talent,” Tulloch said. “Like I said, that D-line is special. [Malcolm Jenkins] on the back end, [Rodney McLeod]. There’s a lot of good young talent here and this is perfect for this defense. Guys will fit very well here and this defense should be a top-ranked defense.”

Source: Jeremy Hellickson ineligible for late trade, here for remainder of ‘16

Source: Jeremy Hellickson ineligible for late trade, here for remainder of ‘16

NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson will be with the Phillies for the remainder of the season.
 
According to sources, the veteran right-hander was recently claimed on waivers. The Phillies were unable to work out a deal with the claiming team and Hellickson was pulled back, making him ineligible to be traded the remainder of the season.
 
Hellickson drew interest before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but the Phillies did not receive an offer that they liked so they hung on to the pitcher. A player traded after Aug. 1 must first go through waivers.
 
Players traded in August must be on their new team’s roster by Sept. 1 — Thursday — to gain playoff eligibility. Players can still be traded in waiver deals after Sept. 1, but they would be ineligible for the playoffs.
 
Even though Hellickson, 29, can be a free agent at season’s end, Phillies officials did not view trading him as an imperative. The Phillies believe they can get good value for Hellickson with a compensatory pick in next June’s draft. But first the Phils must extend Hellickson a qualifying salary offer for 2017. That could be close to $17 million. Hellickson would have to turn the offer down and opt for the free-agent market for the Phils to get that pick.
 
Hellickson is 10-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 starts for the Phillies this season. He struggled against the Mets on Saturday night, but had a 2.60 ERA in his previous 11 starts. Chances seem good that he will find a multi-year deal on the free-agent market and reject the Phillies’ one-year qualifying offer, thus giving the team a draft pick between the first and second rounds.

Defensive line proving to be Eagles' biggest strength

Defensive line proving to be Eagles' biggest strength

INDIANAPOLIS – If this was a realistic glimpse at what the Eagles’ defensive line is going to be, watch out.
 
This D-line has a chance to be something special.
 
All the usual preseason disclaimers apply. We don’t know how much the Colts game planned. We don’t know if they can all stay healthy. It’s always dangerous to project too much from a preseason game into the regular season.
 
Still.
 
This was dominating stuff Saturday night from a defensive line that is clearly the strength of this football team.
 
If they can keep it up … watch out.
 
“You don’t want to get carried away and go out there after a preseason game and say how great we are, but it’s still exciting,” defensive tackle Beau Allen said.
 
“I think we an be a really good crew. I think it’s a mature group, and we’ve all played in a lot of football games and we get out there we just feel comfortable with each other."

In the final tuneup for the starters, the Eagles beat the Colts, 33-23, at Lucas Oil Stadium (see story).
 
With the starting defense on the field, the Colts scored only on a field goal following a turnover and on a blocked punt. The Colts, with all-pro Andrew Luck playing into the third quarter, managed just 206 yards and those three points on six drives.
 
The Eagles sacked Luck three times, held Colts ball carriers to 24 yards on 13 carries and didn’t give Luck any time to get the ball down the field.
 
“They didn’t run the ball on us, which is always important early in the game,” Barwin said. “And then we were consistently getting Andrew off his spot, making him move around a little bit, making him uncomfortable.”
 
Yes, it’s preseason. But as Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins points out, an effective pass rush is an effective pass rush. No matter when you see it.
 
“One thing I think you can really evaluate in the preseason is a pass rush,” Jenkins said. “Especially if it’s a four-man rush. Because there’s not much of scheme to it. You cut ‘em loose and you either can beat him 1-on-1 or you can’t, and the consistent pressure we got from a four-man rush was definitely encouraging.
 
“We got more guys in coverage, the quarterback has to hold the ball a little bit longer, and every time we made him double clutch, he got put on the ground. 
 
“It goes hand and hand, coverage and pressure, so that’s obviously something we want to continue to excel at. … This was our last real opportuity to get out there together and play in some signifiant time and we wanted to make sure we had a clean run, had the small mistakes that we might have made earlier in camp, make sure those things are eradicated. Make sure we communicated well and played fast.”
 
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz used seven defensive linemen with the first group — starters Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin, plus Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart and Allen.
 
It’s a talented group and it’s a deep group, and it's a group that's been together a long time.
 
"There’s a comfort level that comes with playing a lot of snaps with your guys and I think it shows out there on the field," Allen said. "It was a fun game and it seemed like we were flying around.”
 
Graham is in his seventh year with the Eagles, Cox and Curry in their fifth, Barwin and Logan in their fourth and Hart and Allen in their third.
 
Of the 16 players who’ve been here at least four years, five are defensive linemen. Of the eight Andy Reid holdovers, three are defensive linemen.
 
“I think we have great communication, great rapport,” Allen said. “It’s things like that you don’t really think about but it really goes a long way. We’ve all been here a while and it’s great when you get that.”
 
Every defensive coordinator talks about playing all his guys, about depth. From what we saw Saturday night, Schwartz truly believes in it.

He worked just about everybody in with the first group.
 
“We’re going to continue to move guys around, rotate guys in, keep guys fresh and play with that kind of speed all game long,” Barwin said.
 
“I know we’re pretty deep at defensive line. Everybody can play. Everybody’s capable of making plays. When you are playing at that speed every single snap and you know your’e only going to play three, four, five plays in a row? And you can go as hard as you can possibly go? That allows you to make plays.”
 
Logan, Barwin and Allen sacked Luck Saturday night, and Logan, Allen, Barwin, Graham, Hart and Cox were all credited with quarterback hits.
 
It was dominating stuff. It didn’t count but it sure was promising.
 
“It was just fun, man, when you’re out there flying around,” Graham said. “We know we still have to keep getting better. It’s preseason and a lot of guys don’t really game plan us and stuff like that, but it’s definitely good that the effort part is there. You don’t have to coach that.
 
“We’re all out there going hard and playing fast and for us we just want to keep getting better and it’s going to be nice when we actually game plan a team and really start getting after it, man.
 
“I’m excited. I’m just excited about where this defense is going to go if we continue to stay together.”