Picking Up the Slack for Mike Patterson: A Look at the Eagles' DT Depth

Picking Up the Slack for Mike Patterson: A Look at the Eagles' DT Depth

It didn't take very long for the first curve ball of training camp to shake up Lehigh -- mere minutes actually. Rick Burkholder opened for Andy Reid at his traditional opening press conference on Sunday, and the team's head trainer was not there to try out his new single. We learned from Burkholder that starting defensive tackle Mike Patterson is still recovering from brain surgery, has not been cleared to play by his physician, and therefore will miss training camp, perhaps more.

Patterson underwent the procedure back in January to remove a brain AVM, an issue we first learned about last summer after he suffered a seizure on the practice field. The surgery was successful, and Patt was hopeful he would be ready in time for the start of the season, but the part of his skull that was removed has not fully healed.

While that sounds mighty unpleasant, the situation isn't as bad as you would think. The truth is, there is a lot more good news to this story than bad.

First and foremost, everybody agrees Patterson is healthy -- the team, his doctors, the man himself. This is not a matter that is interfering with his day-to-day life. Now, they need to ensure he is completely healed and stable before he starts playing a collision sport. Makes sense.

The question is how long that will take. It was originally hoped to be only six months, and that Patterson would be ready for camp, but it could be several more, which obviously could last into the start of the regular season. Nobody is sure enough for timetables, but it doesn't sounds like there is any significant medical issue behind why. As Burkholder told the assembled, "Everybody heals differently."

The fact that Patterson should be fine is the best news of all, but from the Eagles' on-field standpoint, it has to be load off the organization's minds knowing they are relatively deep on the interior. They'll be missing a good player, one who has missed only two games since he was taken 31st in the '05 Draft, but the rotation should remain quite strong up the middle.

Cullen Jenkins

Of course, one half of the starting duo is intact, that being Cullen Jenkins. Jenkins arrived as a free agent, one of the few from last summer's spending spree who panned out. Voted as an alternate for the Pro Bowl, Jenkins had 5.5 sacks, was fourth among all defensive tackles on the Pro Football Focus list of pass rushing efficiency. There is some question as to whether the 31-year-old fell off down the stretch last season (0.5 sacks over final 11 games), but he still charted well, and there are better players behind him to help share the load than was the case a year ago.

Antonio Dixon

It's been such a long time since he last suited up, you could have forgotten about Antonio Dixon, but he was the first name Coach Reid mentioned when discussing who could fill in for Patterson. After starting 10 games in 2010 -- and acquitting himself fairly well for an undrafted, second-year player -- Dixon played in only four last season before tearing his triceps against the 49ers.

It was a bigger loss for the Birds than people realized, particularly against the run, an area that gave them fits for much of the season. PFF graded Dixon eighth among interior linemen in their run defense grades the previous season. In '11, Philadelphia finished 16th in the NFL against the run, 19th in yards per carry. Dixon figured to a bigger piece of the puzzle this year anyway, at least situationally, but now he may be asked to carry more of the load if Patterson's absence becomes prolonged.

Derek Landri

One of the best moves the team made this offseason was re-signing Derek Landri, even if only for one more year. A free agent who coincidentally was added after Patterson's episode last summer, Landri didn't make the roster out of camp, but he was brought back after Dixon was lost for the season. It was sort of a mystery why he wasn't with the club after a strong preseason, but once he got his chance when the games counted, Landri charted among the league's best.

If it seemed like #94 was living in the opposing offense's backfield, that's because he owned a timeshare at the very least. According to PFF, which billed Landri as the team's top run defender in '11, he graded fourth overall among 4-3 defensive tackles, and he was fifth among all tackles in pass rushing productivity. Football Outsiders Almanac ranked him third with a 91% stop rate (percentage of plays he was involved that FO considers stops). And while advanced stats are nice, we all saw the carnage for ourselves. Landri stood out week after week.

Fletcher Cox

The Eagles made Fletcher Cox the 12th overall pick in April's draft, and thus he was expected to come in and become a game changer sooner rather than later anyway. Now he'll get plenty of extra reps in camp, and if Patterson doesn't come back soon, Cox could make an impression and dig into his playing time, too. After all, Patterson is a quality player, but in the long term, Cox is supposed to be elite.

It's already been suggested that Cox was selected for exactly this reason, in case Patt would miss time. That may be true, but the main motivation still seemed to be acquiring a dominant pass rusher who fits defensive line coach Jim Washburn's wide nine front. Patterson has never had more than four sacks in a season, and his 2.5 in 2011 was his highest total since, so it's not just swapping one player for another, but entirely different skill sets. However, whatever the case was, there's no denying it's a good thing they have Cox now. 

With a solid mix of players around him, there's no reason why the current Eagles shouldn't be able to shoulder the burden until Patterson returns.

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

Maikel Franco's benching continues as Howie Kendrick readies to play 3rd base in minors

The benching of Maikel Franco lasted for a second day Wednesday.

When will it end?

"It's a day-to-day thing," Pete Mackanin said. "No specific plan."

Franco is hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage and a .377 slugging percentage.

Mackanin first benched his third baseman/cleanup hitter on Tuesday. At the time, the manager said he was trying to take some heat off the slumping Franco and let him clear his mind, but the overriding reason for the benching is simple: Mackanin is looking for Franco to make the fundamental adjustments in his swing that will lead to more production.

"At this level you've got to produce," Mackanin said Tuesday. "You want to play, you've got to hit and they have to understand that. Nobody is here on scholarship.

"As much as he works in the cage and on the field in batting practice and does it right, when he gets in the game his head is still flying and his bat is coming out of the zone.

"I can't teach you to keep your head in there. I can tell you to do it, but you have to do it on your own and he's got to figure it out. … If you make outs the same way over and over, it's not going to change."

Franco on Wednesday said he understands the benching. He is disappointed in his production.

"Yes, I'm disappointed," he said. "I know I can produce better and help the team more. Nobody wants to be in this situation, hitting .220. The only thing to do is try to get better.

"I think any good hitter hitting .220 is going to be disappointed. I will not stop working and doing what I have to to get better."

Typically, a manager, especially one such as Mackanin, whose strength is communication, would speak to a player and lay out the reasons for an extended benching.

But Mackanin has chosen to let the lineup card do the talking on this one. He'd like to speak with Franco about the situation, but wants the player to come to him.

It doesn't sound like that's going to happen.

"They understand and I understand, you know?" Franco said. "I'm not the guy to go into the manager's office and say, 'Why am I not in the lineup?' I want to play. He knows what he's doing and I know what I'm capable of doing. Every single day when I come in, I'm 100 percent mentally ready to be in the lineup and I'm ready to play. If I'm not in the lineup, I have to get relaxed and just try to do everything I can to make an adjustment so when I'm in the lineup, I'll do my job."

Andres Blanco played third base in place of Franco on Tuesday and Wednesday. If Franco doesn't improve when he gets back in the lineup — whenever that may be — there could soon be another player in the mix at third base.

Howie Kendrick began a minor-league rehab assignment at Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night. He played left field in that game. Mackanin said the rehab stint would last four games and that Kendrick would also play first and third base.

Do the math on that one.

Franco can be optioned to the minors so that could also be a possibility if his problems persist.

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

NHL Notes: Penguins, Senators have chance at history in Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- Craig Anderson is a realist, the byproduct of 15 years playing the most demanding position in the NHL.

The Ottawa goaltender would like to chalk his 45-save masterpiece in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Pittsburgh up to his own brilliance. He knows that's not exactly the case.

"I think you need to be a little bit lucky to be good at times," Anderson said.

Ottawa has relied on a bit of both during its deepest playoff run in a decade and Anderson helped force Game 7 Thursday night. Yet here the Senators are, alive and still skating with a chance to eliminate the deeper, more experienced and more explosive Stanley Cup champions.

So much for the series being over after the Penguins destroyed Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5.

"I think, if you believe you're beaten, you're done already," Anderson said. "If you believe that you can win, there's always a chance."

All the Senators have to do to reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history is take down one of the league's marquee franchises on the road in a building where they were beaten by a touchdown last time out.

No pressure or anything. Really. The Senators weren't supposed to be here. Then again, in a way neither were the Penguins. No team has repeated in nearly two decades and at times during the season and even during the playoffs this group was too beat up. Too tired from last spring's Cup run. The bullseye on their backs too big.

Yet they've survived behind the brilliance of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, coach Mike Sullivan's impeccable decisions and a resiliency that has them one game from being the first Cup champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009.

Those Red Wings, by the way, fell to the Penguins in seven games. There have been several Game 7s for Pittsburgh in the interim on both sides of the ledger, though the Penguins are 2-0 in Game 7s under Sullivan. They edged Tampa Bay in Game 7 of last year's East finals and clinically disposed of Presidents' Trophy winner Washington in Game 7 of the second round earlier this month (see full story).

Predators: Goalie Rinne on smothering run
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne's face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

"As a player, I feel like I've had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity," Rinne said. "So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have."

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he's probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne's 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

"What he does every night, you can't put into words," Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said (see full story).

Blues: Sydor returns to Blues as assistant
ST. LOUIS -- Darryl Sydor has returned to the St. Louis Blues as an assistant coach under mentor Mike Yeo.

Sydor agreed to a three-year deal Wednesday.

The 45-year-old Sydor finished his 18-year NHL playing career with the Blues in 2009-10, then broke into coaching as Yeo's assistant the next season with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros. Sydor went with Yeo to Minnesota and spent five years with the Wild before working as an assistant last season with the Blues' then-Chicago affiliate in the AHL.

Sydor was a defenseman for Los Angeles, Dallas, Columbus, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, winning Stanley Cup titles with Dallas and Tampa Bay.

Coyotes: Cunningham hired as pro scout
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Craig Cunningham as a pro scout and say he will assist with player development.

General manager John Chayka announced the two-year contract Wednesday that allows Cunningham to remain in hockey.

Cunningham collapsed on the ice with a cardiac disturbance prior to a game Nov. 19 while playing for the American Hockey League's Tucson Roadrunners and required emergency life-saving care. He had part of his left leg amputated and saw his playing career end.

But the 26-year-old who was captain of the Roadrunners last season says he's excited to start the next chapter of his hockey career in the Coyotes' front office. Chayka called Cunningham a "smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game" that he believes will translate to his new job.