The Linc Is Open For Business! Eagles Host Ravens

The Linc Is Open For Business! Eagles Host Ravens

Feels like 2004 in this joint.

That's the last time I can remember there being any serious excitement for a preseason opener. The Eagles were coming off of a huge off-season, not so very different from this summer in fact. They signed the most coveted free agent on the market (Jevon Kearse), brought back a former member of the team (Jeremiah Trotter), sought additional defensive help (Dhani Jones), upgraded their offensive line through the draft (Shawn Andrews), and pulled off one major trade (Terrell Owens).

And that team certainly delivered, at least on its promise to finally get off the NFC Championship doorstep, and bust through the front door of the Super Bowl. We all know how that story ends, but this year we are once again reminded how August feels when it's full of promise.

The promise of a legit contender that's jam packed with all star talent.

However tempting as it may be to get super-duper excited about tonight's action, I'm not about to do that, and advise you don't either. Once the game kicks off, you'll more than likely be treated to vanilla offensive schemes that make everybody look bad, and defensive mix-ups that show just how far this is from the final product we will see in September.

Then after 15 minutes of lousy football--and probably lousier than usual given these guys will be shaking the rust off from their vacations/the lockout--it will be time for the reserves to get theirs. By the fourth quarter, you won't recognize a soul.

Hey, at least it's football. Am I right? On to who we'll be watching tonight.

The Offensive Line
Particularly, we want to see what the Eagles are working with from center to right. Jamaal Jackson has returned from last season's triceps tear, but camp reports have sixth round rookie Jason Kelce getting more than his share of snaps with the first team. Of course, first round pick Danny Watkins will be making his debut at guard, while free agent signee Ryan Harris will make the start at tackle.

The Ravens are very stout up front, with Pro Bowlers Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs among the loads that will be bringing the heat, so this will be a good test for the revamped O-line.

Dion Lewis
Lewis could be in line for a decent number of carries tonight, as the coaches try to guage what he can bring to the table this season. The rookie out of Pitt appeared to be in line for a backup role, but the Eagles signed Ronnie Brown, which puts Lewis's role in question. The veteran Brown probably doesn't need a ton of work, so hopefully they give the fifth rounder a chance to shine.

Cullen Jenkins
One of the least discussed, but biggest free agent acquisitions this off-season, it will be interesting to see in exactly what capacity he is utilized. He is currently listed as a second stringer on the depth chart, which could indicate he'll primarily see action on passing downs, or it could mean they are simply working him into the system as well. The Eagles aren't likely to tip their hand too much in this first contest, but maybe we'll get a taste of what his role will be in Juan Castillo's defense.

Casey Matthews
The time for talk is already over. Can a rookie handle the middle linebacker job? Is Casey Matthews strong enough to shed blocks and wade through the traffic around the line of scrimmage? Of course, even if he has a solid outing tonight, that doesn't mean he won't be another Joe Mays, the original Kulp/700Level camp darling.

The Secondary
We just want to see if a quarterback can complete a pass against this group.

In all seriousness, don't get your expectations too high for tonight, but this unit is going to be fun to watch. Also, let's not forget this year's second and third round picks, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh. Our own Nick Menta is attending the game tonight, and will more than likely provide some kind of write-up on his self-proclaimed man-crush of Jarrett afterwards.

Alex Henery
Because we're all very, very curious. You've got some big shoes to fill, kid, and if you miss a field goal tonight, you seriously might not ever hear the end of it. Unless you kick a game winner in February. Then it's all good.

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games -- all losses -- that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It’s not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it’s a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies’ starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies’ starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that. "

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn’t miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He’s had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn’t locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight base runners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It’s not fun. It's just something you deal with. It’s not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco. Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."