Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

In this town, we have had plenty of
anticipated returns, when our one-time heroes come back to our fair
city in another team’s jersey.

The days leading up to these reunions are built up
with questions from fans, local media members and national media-types
(all of whom are predicting boos and batteries).

Will they cheer? Will they boo? Usually, one or two
writers will climb onto their nearest high horse to tell you what you
should do when he comes out of the tunnel.

I don’t like to tell people what to think or how
to act, and every fan has a different relationship with every player.
For example, I will always, forever and through all layers of irrationality,
defend Allen Iverson to the death. My arguments will not be logical,
they will not always be based in truth and they might end with, “well,
you smell bad!”

Now as just a fourth-year team, Saturday’s return
of former captain Danny Califf doesn’t approach the level of Brian
Dawkins’ coming back to the Linc, Scott Rolen’s return to the Vet
or Iverson wearing a Nuggets jersey.

But unlike those guys and those teams, many Union
fans have a more personal relationship with the players. Califf has
shared a beer with many fans, signed countless shirts and even visited
the Sons of Ben Tailgate on gameday. So when he walks back into PPL
Park on Saturday (4 p.m., ABC) as a member of Toronto F.C., there will
be a strong reaction from the crowd.

And from the vibe I’m getting on Twitter and the
web this week, don’t be surprised if Califf is heckled mercilessly
by many Sons of Ben. If the national media cared about MLS, they’d
rip Philly fans for not being grateful. But if you know the sense of
humor possessed by Califf (and most Sons of Ben), you’d realize there’s
no greater compliment than vulgar songs and banners in The River End.

"I’m really excited," Califf
told Matthew de George of the Delaware County Daily Times. “I know
that the Sons of Ben will give me a hard time. I would feel a little
weird if they didn’t because it would mean they didn’t like me when
I was here. I’m excited to see the stuff they have in store, whether
it’s banner or chants or whatever.”

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (2-2-1, 7 point) vs. Toronto F.C.
(1-2-2, 5 points)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: ABC

 

Today’s Opponent, in Haiku Form:

The team from up north,

Often bad, better of late,

U should still win, eh?

 

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

Toronto F.C. came into Major League Soccer in 2007
as the “next big thing” in the league. In six seasons, the
“Reds” have never made the playoffs and never finished higher
than 11th overall. Their passionate fans have gone through
all stages of grief, including denial, revolt, and indifference.

Finally, however, it seems like Toronto has some light
at the end of its tunnel, even if that just means a draw here and there.
Their coaching situation was one of the offseason’s most interesting
stories, as Toronto – which is now on its EIGHTH MANAGER in less than
seven years – hired New Zealand legend and former MLS star Ryan Nelsen
as its new coach.

The only problem was that as of a few months ago,
Nelsen was a regular starter for Queens Park Rangers of the English
Premier League. Originally, it seemed Toronto was going to allow Nelsen
to finish the year before retiring as a player and taking over in Toronto.
But after much head-scratching, Nelsen decided to leave London for Toronto
in time for the season opener.

Outside of Califf, even the most ardent MLS diehard
will need a program to identify Toronto’s starting 11.

Sidenote: Expect some entertainment and creative chants
if The River End sees Joe Bendik start in goal for Toronto. Especially
from a crowd that should be amped up by the first tolerable matchday
weather of the season.

 

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City:

Half of Toronto’s population – which totals
roughly 2.5 million – was actually born outside of Canada. It
is the fifth largest city in North America (Mexico City, New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago). (thanks, visit-toronto.ca)

 

The Player Most Likely to Doop:

In my last matchday preview – before a much-needed
fifth anniversary vacation with my better half, and a weeklong illness
that came home with us – I actually got this right when I said Conor
Casey.

So, what the hell.

Conor Casey.

 

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I didn’t see last week’s draw in Columbus – 
and forgot to set the DVR – but by all accounts, the team played
well enough to win and showed more promise than in the loss to New York.

These are the games where the Union MUST get three
points if they hope to make a playoff push. Home game. Bad team. No
weather excuses.

I’m predicting a very rare Union cakewalk on Saturday.
Call it a hunch, call it crazy, call it wrong when it turns out to be.

Union 3, Toronto 0.

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Frank Reich learning from Doug Pederson, adjusting to new system with Eagles

Despite rain forcing the Eagles’ first full-squad practice of training camp inside, new offensive coordinator Frank Reich liked what he saw out of his offense.
 
Speaking to reporters after practice at the NovaCare Complex on Thursday, Reich was pleased with how the offense’s preparation off the field translated during practice.
 
“Overall, what we’re happy about is how you take it from the meeting room to the field and minimize the errors. Make plays that are there,” Reich said. “There were very few mental errors. [The offense] looked sharp today.”
 
Before coming to Philadelphia this offseason, Reich spent the past two seasons as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator.
 
Joining a new coaching staff means learning a new system, and Reich has noticed some unique aspects of head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive attack.
 
“This West Coast-hybrid system obviously has a very long winning track record,” Reich said. “How it’s adapted in the run game now with some of the zone-read stuff and all the different ways you can scheme wide receiver throws, when you get a heavy box, I think that’s what Doug did really well in Kansas City.
 
“Of course, I went up against it six times in three years playing against that team (with the Chargers), so I saw it firsthand,” Reich said. “It’s fun now to be on the other side of that.”
 
Now working alongside Pederson, Reich thinks what the Eagles were able to do this offseason to build a talented roster was huge for what they’re trying to accomplish.
 
“Every time we had a chance to get something done from a personnel standpoint, we got it done," Reich said. "So that fires you up as a coach."

One of those moves was trading up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in April’s draft. Although he was running the third-team offense Thursday (see Day 4 notes), Wentz stood out, making some good throws and ending the day with a deep completion across the field.
 
Reich took notice and was encouraged by the rookie’s performance, but he and the rest of the Eagles’ coaching staff are focused on the team as a whole as opposed to just one player.
 
“We’re eager to see how we develop as a team first and foremost, and certainly that’s going to include great individual performances and days,” Reich said.
 
With a new coaching staff in place, Reich isn’t the only one adjusting to a new situation. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who had to learn former head coach Chip Kelly’s system last season, is getting used to Pederson’s offense this time around.
 
“I’ve seen a lot of football, I’ve seen a lot of different systems,” Bradford said after practice Thursday. “Obviously, this one’s new. It’s different, but I think there’s some carryover from some past systems that I’ve been in, so it’s nice to know that everything isn’t brand new and there are some things that are familiar.”
 
Bradford and Wentz are adapting together to the Eagles' new offense. Fellow quarterback Chase Daniel is more familiar with it, having studied and played in Pederson’s offense with the Chiefs. But Reich knows it’s been a learning process for the Eagles’ quarterback group.
 
“The guys have learned it real fast, they’ve studied it hard and they feed off of each other. They challenge each other,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit, they’ve picked it up very quickly.”
 
In terms of fulfilling his own role as a coach on Pederson’s staff, Reich is dedicated to going along with how Pederson runs the team.
 
“You commit yourself to whatever way the head coach wants to do it,” Reich said. “It’s been a really good thing for me as a coach learning from him.”

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Jon Dorenbos far more than just Eagles' long snapper

Most long snappers in the NFL are pretty anonymous.

Mike Bartrum spent seven years at that position for the Eagles with very little fanfare.

Over the last few weeks, Jon Dorenbos has turned himself into something much more than a football player, let alone a long snapper. Dorenbos is now a celebrity.

Thanks to a successful stint on the NBC show America's Got Talent, Dorenbos has shown off his ability as a magician. With another mind-blowing trick on Tuesday night's show, it was announced on Wednesday's results show that Dorenbos has made it to the semifinals. 

With each passing stage, Dorenbos gets closer to the $1 million grand prize — but not without a few anxious moments.

"It's a waiting game," Dorenbos said Thursday of the judges determining his fate. "Because it's a variety show there's a lot of completely different acts. I think the important thing is, at least for me, is don't try to compete with them. Be who you are and focus more on what makes you unique and what makes you interesting and try and highlight that and then hopefully the act follows."

A big part of what makes Dorenbos unique is his tragic back story. When Dornebos was 12, his father killed his mother at the family's home in Seattle. Dorenbos was left with a lot of confusion, but channeled that into something positive.

Magic has been a big part of his life since he was 16. He's used it to help himself heal and he hopes it has done the same for others. He's shared his story of success through tragedy with kids who have been through similar situations.

"At first when I was a rookie and I was young, it was a little awkward for me," Dorenbos said of sharing his story.

"You eventually start seeing that you're not alone and we're all in this together and if we just kind of help each other out and share our experiences and how we got through stuff and you can help, maybe that's why I was put here. I can share my message through the way I perform. If that's the case then it's pretty cool, man. That's a big responsibility and a big honor."

People have constantly asked Dornebos how he manages to balance his newfound celebrity magician status with his day job of being a professional football player. When you put it in perspective, it's really not that difficult considering what he's been through.

Then again, with this training camp comes something the two-time Pro Bowler has never truly experienced with the Eagles: Competition. The team brought in undrafted rookie free-agent long snapper John DePalma out of West Virginia.

Whether it's on the gridiron or on the stage, Dorenbos doesn't sweat the competition.

"I don't really worry about [the competition]. I don't really care," Dorenbos said. "And it's in the most respectful way possible and I want everybody to have success and I want everybody to do well but if I worry about other people, then all of the sudden I'm not worried about myself. If you worry too much about other people and you don't handle your own business, then it's a missed opportunity on your own stupidity."

When it comes to scheduling conflicts, that's another thing Dorenbos doesn't really worry about. He knows his teammates are in his corner. 

Head coach Doug Pederson had the team watch his latest trick on Tuesday night. Some of his teammates shared pictures of the Eagles watching Dorenbos. He was genuinely appreciative of their support, saying he doesn't "think anything feels better than when you get the respect of your teammates."

As for America's Got Talent, Dorenbos doesn't know how long the ride will last, but he's enjoying it. Just like his football career, he's leaving it all out there and not leaving a single trick up his sleeve.

"To me, you gotta let it ride and worry about the next one later," he said, "because if you save it, then what's the point?"

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not made immediately available by the team, but NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reports the deal is for $4.5 million. That would represent a $1 million raise from the $3.5 million base salary Sproles was set to earn in 2016. Rapoport also reports that the Eagles have moved money from the extension into this season. 

Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.