If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

If nothing else, Eagles are safe at safety again

When was the last time the Philadelphia Eagles had two reliable (let alone competent) safeties in their defensive backfield? We have to go back to 2008, when future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins and uber-solid Quintin Mikell were patrolling the secondary.

With the re-signing of Nate Allen to a one-year contract on Monday, it appears if nothing else the Eagles will have stability at the safety position again going forward. Allen joins free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins as the probable starters in ’14, with second-year player Earl Wolff, special teams ace Chris Maragos and likely a player in May’s draft pushing for a spot.

For five seasons, Philly fans have been forced to endure the likes of Quintin Demps, Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Kurt Coleman, Patrick Chung and Allen bereft of his confidence. Now all of a sudden, this appears to be as deep and talented as the position has been since Dawkins departed as a free agent himself.

Have the Birds found the next Weapon X? No. As it stands today, is safety an area of great strength? Let’s not get carried away.

At least defensive coordinator Bill Davis can work with this group.

There was some debate as to whether or not Allen was even going to make the team one year ago. The 2010 second-round pick out of South Florida was already chalked up as a firm bust by the time the new coaching staff arrived. At best, he was a charity case. At worst, he was retained because there was literally nobody else.

Allen was shaky the first few weeks of the ’13 campaign, but grew increasingly comfortable in Davis’ scheme as time wore on. Anecdotally, it’s hard to recall a specific play in the second half of the season where he was burned on a passing play down the field, while the four-year veteran demonstrated immense improvement as a tackler as well.

Allen finished with a career-high 82 tackles to go with 1.0 sack, one interception and one forced fumble. If that’s the 26-year-old’s ceiling, the Eagles could still stand to upgrade. For now, they can get by.

Supporters would point to the fact that Allen has played under four defensive coordinators in four years in the league. Davis himself was critical of the scope of responsibility the previous regime’s Wide-9 front placed on the safeties. It’s unclear how rehab from a torn patellar tendon suffered his rookie season impacted Allen in the past as well.

Meanwhile, Jenkins has arrived in Philadelphia to little fanfare. Fans coveted some of the more expensive and theoretically superior safeties in the free-agent market, so anything less was going to be greeted mildly.

And the fact is Jenkins does have an unspectacular resume. A first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints in ’09, the 26-year-old has registered just 4.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles in 63 starts over a five-year career. Metrics site Pro Football Focus ranked Jenkins at or near the bottom of safeties in such areas as tackling, run-stopping and coverage for the ’13 season.

Those questionably reliable measures aside, Jenkins seems like a perfect for Davis’ scheme. He can play either safety position, which means he’s comfortable either in the box or dropping back into coverage. A converted cornerback, the Ohio State product can also cover wide receivers and tight ends man-to-man, which the Eagles will ask of their safeties.

While there were arguably better players available, Jenkins was a five-year starter in New Orleans. He helped the team win a Super Bowl in ’09 and was part of the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL last season. Signed to a three-year contract with $8.5 million guaranteed, it’s difficult to envision this being a complete backfire.

Perhaps most importantly, none of these moves prevent the Eagles from selecting a safety in the draft, not even in the first round. In fact, given the relatively short commitments to Allen and Jenkins, such an addition within the first two days of the draft is likely.

Wolff also looked as though he could be a potential starter during his rookie year. A fifth-round pick out of North Carolina State, he’s certainly still in the mix for a job, but there wasn’t enough tape that the team would feel comfortable going into this season with his name at the top of the depth chart.

A four-year veteran with zero career starts, Maragos appears to be here strictly for his special teams. However, he may have an opportunity to contribute more than he did coming from the Seattle Seahawks, where Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor were firmly entrenched as the starters.

It finally feels safe to say that we’re a long way from the days of desperately plugging in a Macho Harris, reaching for a Jaiquawn Jarrett, praying a Jarrad Page would take the right angle to the ball-carrier and wincing as a Patrick Chung took out his own teammates. By no means is the rebuild at safety complete, but at least it should be good enough to compete.

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

New Jersey product Tim Adleman limits Phillies to 1 hit over 8 innings

Cincinnati Reds starter Tim Adleman came into Friday night’s start against the Phillies with an ERA above six, having allowed 10 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings. 

So, naturally, he gave up just one hit over eight scoreless innings. 

The 29-year-old righty dominated the Phillies in just his 20th career MLB start en route to his third win this season, pitching easily the best game of his young career in a 5-2 Reds’ win (see game recap).

It was understandably the best that Reds manager Bryan Price had seen from Adleman.
 
"It wasn't just because of the line score," Price said. "It was really command-based. Really good both sides of the plate. Had a nice sinking fastball, could straighten it out when he needed to. A very, very good changeup. I don’t think he even used a breaking ball there until the eighth inning.

"So it was really that good."

At just 100 pitches through eight, naturally the question for Price was whether to allow him the chance at a complete game. However, Price needed to get reliever Asher Wojciechowski work to get him ready for a start next week.

"I wanted to stay in there pretty badly, but you understand the move," Adleman said. "Wojo needed to get some work. It had been a while since he threw and it's a game in May. It's not a game that's deeper in the season. … I totally understand."

For his eight innings, Adleman attacked the Phillies' batters early in counts and didn't allow a batter to reach third all night. He retired the leadoff batter in all but one inning and allowed just four batters to reach base.

The Phillies' only threat came in the first inning. An Andres Blanco single was followed by an Aaron Altherr hit by pitch. That brought up Thursday's hero -- Tommy Joseph -- with two men on and just one out. Adleman utilized his changeup on a 1-2 pitch, inducing a weak grounder back the mound for a 1-4-3 double play. 

In three at-bats against Joseph, Adleman recorded three ground ball outs, all on the changeup, which is his primary off-speed offering.

"The scouting report is that he's a really good fastball hitter. Does a lot of damage on fastballs," Adleman said, "So if you can get him in situations where you're confident he's looking for a fastball and then cut a changeup on him, it can be really effective. Obviously, you have to keep it down, but that's the same with all your pitches."

Joseph's at-bats set the trend for the rest of the Phillies' lineup. The Reds’ starter kept the ball down and didn’t allow another baserunner until he walked Blanco to lead off the seventh. Sixteen of his 24 outs came on ground balls and only five pitches were hit past the infield. 

Adleman stated his goal was to use the Phillies’ aggressiveness against them with strikes early in the count and it worked. It was his first time pitching into the eighth inning in his career and he did so with almost exclusively his fastball and changeup.

"I think it had a lot to do with that little pause [in his delivery] and he did a good job changing speeds on us," Joseph said. "He basically did it with two pitches, which says a lot about how hard this game can be. Hats off to him. 

"Next time we'll see if we can't get him back."

In a way, Adleman was getting the Phillies back. He made the third start of his career at Citizens Bank Park last year on May 14. He took the loss against Friday’s starter, Aaron Nola, while allowing three runs in five innings.

Born in Staten Island, Adleman was raised in New Jersey, but grew up a Yankees fan. He hadn't been to CBP until college, where he faced Villanova while playing for Georgetown. 

At 29, he's a little old for a second-year starter because he took a winding road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2010, he was nearly out of baseball by 24. He spent two years in independent leagues before catching on with the Reds and debuting in the show last season.

The journeyman starter had struggled in his last few starts, which helped his ERA balloon to 6.19. However, his Friday night opponent seemed more than happy to take some air out of the balloon. Adleman became the fifth pitcher in the last six days to come into a start against the Phillies with an ERA of 5.00 or above and allow one run or less over at least five innings. 

"It feels good," Adleman said of his night. "Philly's a good young team and Nola is making quite a name for himself. He out-pitched me last year and coming into tonight I knew I had an opportunity to right the ship so to speak."

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

Pete Mackanin calls team meeting after Phillies hit low point with 21st loss in 26 games

BOX SCORE

When the opposing pitcher comes in with an ERA that matches the area code for San Diego — 6.19 — and holds you scoreless on one single over eight innings, well …

You've reached the low point of your season.

And it's time for a team meeting.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called for a little powwow after his club suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday night (see Instant Replay). Don't let the final score fool you. It wasn't that close. The loss was the Phillies' 21st in the last 26 games. They were held to three hits for the fourth time in the last six games — five losses — and have scored just nine runs over that span.

Mackanin acknowledged that this was the low point for his team, which owns the worst record in the majors at 16-30. Cincinnati starting pitcher Tim Adleman entered the game with a 6.19 ERA, but he pitched like an ace in holding the Phillies to just a first-inning single over his eight shutout innings (see story). Adleman walked two, struck out four and at one point set down 16 straight Phillies. The 29-year-old right-hander has made 20 starts in his big-league career and this was by far the best.

"Yeah," Mackanin said when asked if the loss was the season's low point. "We need to step it up. We're better than this. I know we're better than this. We've just got to start playing as aggressive as we can and take it to the other team. Be aggressive at the plate and pound the strike zone."

That apparently was Mackanin's message to the club in his postgame meeting, though he would not talk about it.

"He just wants to see us play with a little more fire and a little more energy," Aaron Altherr said. "You know, it's something we've got to do. Today wasn't too great. But, like I said, hopefully we can right the ship and start winning some games again."

Tommy Joseph was tight-lipped on the content of the team meeting.

"That's basically stuff that was between us," he said. "There's a pretty good understanding that we need to get going in here and that was really it. I think the rest is pretty self-explanatory and what he had to say is between us.

"It's definitely not a lack of effort. Everybody is out there trying to get the job done. I think there are certain nights when the job is getting done. When things start to spark a little bit, everybody feeds off that. Obviously there are some nights where that doesn't happen. It's definitely not from a lack of effort. Everybody is going out there busting their ass, so it's just a matter of sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn't."

Mackanin used slumping Odubel Herrera in the leadoff spot for the first time this season and he produced a ninth-inning double after Adleman exited. The Phillies actually loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but a fielder's choice groundball and then a strikeout by Maikel Franco, the potential tying run, ended the game. Franco struck out swinging wildly at a full-count breaking ball from Raisel Iglesias.

Joseph mentioned that Adleman changed speeds well and used a slight hesitation in his delivery to throw off hitters.

But was it more the pitcher or more just a bad offense?

"It's hard to tell," Mackanin said. "That's a daily question. Are we not hitting the ball like we should or is the pitcher that good? It seems like I look up and every other pitcher we face has a 6.00 ERA, but I think it's all because we're missing good pitches to hit. We're getting pitches to hit and we're not hitting them."

Aaron Nola did not have a good start. He gave up a pair of homers in falling behind, 3-0, after two innings, and, obviously, there was no coming back, not with this offense.

The Philies are 5-18 in the month of May.

Or should we say Mayday?

"We're trying to stay positive, as positive as we can throughout this stretch," Altherr said. "You know, it's tough sometimes when things are going the way they are. We're just going to keep being positive, keep trying to bring as much energy as we can to win some games."