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Priority Number One: Get a Linebacker or Two

Priority Number One: Get a Linebacker or Two

With DeSean Jackson under wraps, and the franchise tagging period closing to a flurry of activity -- 21 players in all were hit with the tag, including several kickers and a punter -- it's finally time to look ahead. Free agency opens in one week, and while we don't anticipate a spending frenzy to rival this past summer, we do expect the Eagles to be active.
Of course, the club still has some of their own players to worry about, Evan Mathis being chief among them, but there are several areas that will require management to step outside the organization's umbrella.
None loom larger than the linebacker position. You often hear the Birds' front office devalues linebackers, but that simply cannot be the case this year. The middle of the field was a black hole for much of the last season, manned primarily by a bunch of undersized, inexperienced fourth-through-seventh rounders, over-matched in a system that heaps pressure on the position.
This offseason, either the Eagles won't go cheap on linebacker, or they won't wait until day three of the draft. In fact, it may very well be both. Fixing this unit just became the team's latest top priority.
EVALUATING WHAT THEY HAVE
WeaksidePopular thinking is the Eagles need a complete overhaul at linebacker. Admittedly, they need a ton of help, but it's not as if there is no talent there at all.
Brian Rolle is the one guy who stood apart from this group last year. Listed at 5-10, Rolle will always be hampered by his short stature. There were moments during his rookie season when Rolle had perfect coverage, but the play wound up going over the top of him. However, those were few and far between. Rolle was often a blanket in coverage, and he showed glimpses of pass-rush ability as well.
Is Rolle an every-down linebacker in the NFL? Difficult to say for sure right now, though he has a few things going for him. He needs to work on becoming a sound tackler, but at least he knows where he's supposed to be. After starting a fairly effective 13 games on the weakside in 2011, this sixth rounder should continue to have a role in the defense next season. Don't sleep on the kid.
MiddleThe other primary starter, on the other hand, is in rough shape. Jamar Chaney had offseason surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, a result of the blow he delivered to a Redskins ball carrier in the final game of the season. He insists he'll be ready to go, but even assuming Chaney is a picture of health once workouts begin, he looked like a replacement level player most of the time last year anyway.
For three games as a rookie, Chaney's athleticism made him look like the second coming -- especially in relief of a plodding Stewart Bradley -- as Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley held offensive linemen at bay. Last season, with the defensive line in the wide nine, Chaney didn't have nearly the same impact while trying to fight off guards exploding at him off the line of scrimmage. He wasn't exactly an abject failure, but they could use somebody stronger at the point of attack -- not to mention that by the end of the season, he wasn't even in the game on passing downs.
Neck surgery further complicates matters. At the very least, the coaches can't rely on Chaney to bounce back quickly.
DepthThere's not a great deal of promise in the rest of the group. Casey Matthews improved by the end of the year, though he had nowhere to go but up, and still seemed to be a step behind the action. We haven't seen much of Keenan Clayton after two seasons, Akeem Jordan is serviceable in limited playing time, and they've squeezed about all they can out of Moise Fokou.
It will be interesting to see who they bring back along with Rolle and Chaney, the latter probably remaining with the club as a backup. They really like Matthews, so he should get another chance, and Jordan contributes on special teams. Clayton could be a coin flip to make the roster, but Fokou's maximum potential has to have been reached, and it's nothing special, so watch for him to wind up a camp casualty.
EVALUATING WHO THEY CAN SIGN

1. MLB Stephen TullochWho better to play middle linebacker behind the wide nine than a middle linebacker whose NFL experience comes exclusively from playing behind wide nine fronts?
The Eagles were believed to have targeted Tulloch when free agency opened last summer, but for whatever reason, he wound up in Detroit. The Lions would surely like to keep Tulloch after a solid year, but they are up against the cap, and may have trouble doing something long-term. If the Eagles can swoop in for the steal, it would go a long way toward fixing their problem.

2. MLB Curtis LoftonLike the Lions, the Falcons are having trouble keeping all their talented players in house, and Lofton is coming dangerously close to getting away. Some might see Lofton as the top available linebacker, a player who turns 26 in June, has not missed a game in his four-year NFL career, and recorded over 100 tackles each of the previous three seasons. He's a strong run-defender, but not a star, even though they might need to pay him like one to get him under contract.

3. MLB/OLB David HawthorneFlying under the radar out of Seattle, Hawthorne is an interesting candidate because he has NFL experience playing both inside and out. Signing Hawthorne would give the front office more flexibility, particularly during the draft. Another player might dictate which pool of linebackers the Eagles could select from, while they would have the ability shuffle Hawthorne around accordingly.

4. MLB London FletcherPeople really like Fletcher, and I confess, I do too -- only not for the Eagles. The guy has been around for-e-ver, and been highly productive at every stop, but there are two questions that need to be asked. One, he'll be 37 this year, so you have to wonder: how long can he keep up this pace? Two, at his size (5-10) and age, will he really be able to pick up where he he left off while playing behind the wide nine for the first time in his career? In other words, is Fletcher the right fit for Philly?
Which, to be fair, is the question we have to ask about any of these guys behind Tulloch. Can he handle the added pressure the Eagles' scheme puts on its linebackers?

5. OLB Erin HendersonAs usual, there aren't a huge number of (any) great 4-3 outside linebackers available. Henderson, a fourth-year player, charted the best according to Pro Football Focus, who ha
d him fourth overall in 2011. However, Henderson -- an undrafted rookie in '08 -- had no starting experience in the NFL prior to this season, so we're going off of a small sample size and potential. He also plays weakside for Minnesota, the same spot as Rolle.
WHAT'S THE PLAN?
This should be pretty straight forward. If the Eagles can sign Stephen Tulloch, that's what they should do. There's no question about whether he is a fit, and he is one of the better interior linebackers in the league to boot. This lessens the immediacy of the need at the position, giving them some freedom on draft day. Instead of automatically targeting LB with their first pick, maybe they could find a replacement at strongside in the second round.
Curtis Lofton, meanwhile, could be an expensive mistake. He probably has the ability to make the transition to playing behind the wide nine, but it could take time, and he may not be as good. Then again, he could also thrive, but I'm more comfortable with the known quantity. Same thing goes for London Fletcher, only while he doesn't carry the same long-term consequences, the potential is there for a far bigger drop off. The best alternative seems to be David Hawthorne, because at least he provides some versatility, and can be moved into a role that better suits his skills if necessary.
It feels like they have to get one of either Tulloch, Lofton, or Hawthorne though, because while there are several good prospects in April's upcoming draft, they don't have nearly enough talent there right now that they should be comfortable inserting one player, a rookie at that. (Plus, it's hard to find free agent help on the outside).
Nor does signing one of those free agents preclude them from adding another backer in the draft. With a large percentage of their starters set for 2012, the Eagles can really focus on rebuilding this unit. Teaming an experienced veteran with an early draft pick to go along with the collection of young, developing players already on their roster is a realistic possibility, and one that could conceivably turn linebacker into a position of strength in time for the season ahead.
Player screen caps courtesy of NFL.com player pages.

CSNPhilly Internship - Advertising/Sales

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CSNPhilly Internship - Advertising/Sales

Position Title: Intern
Department: Advertising/Sales
Company: Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia
# of hours / week: 10 – 20 hours

Deadline: November 20

Basic Function

This position will work closely with the Vice President of Sales in generating revenue through commercial advertisements and sponsorship sales. The intern will gain first-hand sales experience through working with Sales Assistants and AEs on pitches, sales-calls and recapping material.

Duties and Responsibilities

• Assist Account Executive on preparation of Sales Presentations
• Cultivate new account leads for local sales
• Track sponsorships in specified programs
• Assist as point of contact with sponsors on game night set up and pre-game hospitality elements.
• Assist with collection of all proof of performance materials.
• Perform Competitive Network Analysis
• Update Customer database
• Other various projects as assigned

Requirements

1. Good oral and written communication skills.
2. Knowledge of sports.
3. Ability to work non-traditional hours, weekends & holidays
4. Ability to work in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment
5. Must be 19 years of age or older
6. Must be a student in pursuit of an Associate, Bachelor, Master or Juris Doctor degree
7. Must have unrestricted authorization to work in the US
8. Must have sophomore standing or above
9. Must have a 3.0 GPA

Interested students should apply here and specify they're interested in the ad/sales internship.

About NBC internships

Malcolm Jenkins compares Donald Trump to 'a troll on social media'

Malcolm Jenkins compares Donald Trump to 'a troll on social media'

Malcolm Jenkins heard what President Donald Trump had to say Friday. He heard Trump encourage NFL owners to release players who protest during the national anthem. 

It was all pretty familiar. 

"Honestly, it's one of those things that it's no different than a troll on social media that I've been dealing with for a whole year," Jenkins said. "That same rhetoric is what I hear on a daily basis. It hits other people close to home when you see your teammate or a player across the league that you know is a great person, who's out there trying to do their part building our communities and making our communities greater, being attacked. I think that's why you saw the response that you did. Mostly from guys who hadn't been protesting or doing whatever already. 

"But for me, it was just more of what's been happening. Nothing anybody can say is going to stop me or deter me from being committed to bringing people together, impacting our communities in a positive way and being that voice of reason."

Trump's comments Friday in Alabama set off even more protests from around the NFL on Sunday (see story). The day started with the Jaguars and Ravens locking arms. The Steelers didn't even come out of the locker room for the anthem. 

And the Eagles took part too. 

Players, coaches and front office executives locked arms as Navy Petty Officer First Class (retired) Generald Wilson began to belt out the Star-Spangled Banner. The Eagles decided Sunday morning to hold the demonstration. Head coach Doug Pederson called it "an organizational decision." Owner Jeff Lurie, team president Don Smolenski and vice president of football operations Howie Roseman were among those who joined. 

"It meant a lot," said Jenkins, who has been raising his fist during the anthem for a year to protest against racial injustice. "I know Mr. Lurie specifically doesn't go on the field much, so for him to be down there and showing their support in their own ways in important. I was happy to see that league-wide." 

Jenkins has continued his demonstration this year and has been somewhat joined by teammates Chris Long and Rodney McLeod, who have been placing their arms around him in a showing of support. 

It seemed like the entire team sort of did that Sunday. 

"It was nice that it was a team effort," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "That's what we wanted. We just wanted a team effort of everybody standing up for the right thing.

"It was good that we all did it as a team, because I just don't like how they single people out and make it about one or a couple people or a group of people. I'm happy we did it as a team because I back those guys that are putting their career out there. It's tough. You get backlash, people start judging you a certain type of way, and to do it as a team, that's a credit to our owner, and I appreciate that."

For what it's worth, President Trump on Sunday condoned locking arms. He tweeted: "Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!" 

It was clearly Trump's comments Friday that spawned Sunday's near-league-wide demonstration. His comments also elicited responses from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFLPA and many NFL owners, including Lurie

"It's just really a distraction," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "I don't like to get involved in politics and I don't think politicians should get involved in sports. It just creates a lot of noise and distraction that takes away from your main goal of winning games."

"It was interesting," Long said of Trump's comments. "It was interesting that he was so occupied with us."

Because of Trump's comments, Long said, "we're kind of also now protesting the right to protest, which you wouldn't think you'd have to do in this country." 

The only Eagles player who noticeably didn't partake in the showing of unity on Sunday was linebacker Mychal Kendricks. The veteran linebacker claimed his non-participation wasn't some sort of political statement.

"Don't think too deep into that," he said. 

When asked, in the wake of increased demonstrations, if Trump's comments backfired, Jenkins wasn't ready to say that. But he did think Sunday served as a chance to make the demonstrations something that brought unity instead of divisiveness. 

So what's next for the NFL? 

"I'm not sure," Jenkins said. "I know there are multiple guys who have been behind the scenes doing work. Hopefully, we can continue to highlight that and hopefully, it's not a one-week thing. We also know it's not about the protest, it's not about the national anthem. It's really about effecting change in our communities. 

"Hopefully, just like today was a collaborative effort of everybody pulling their resources to send messages and to bring people together, hopefully, that can continue on a micro level in each NFL city, each community and we can really break some walls down and makes some changes."