A Vacationer's Impressions of Cliff Lee's Acquisition and First Start

A Vacationer's Impressions of Cliff Lee's Acquisition and First Start

I've been coming to the southern Maine coastal area nearly every summer of my life for an annual family vacation. When I was young, we stayed in a cottage that didn't have a TV (rough on a kid who loved Ninja Turtles, Transformers, etc.), but we kept track of baseball by reading the local and Boston papers and listening to Red Sox games on the radio, and sometimes, I BS you not, we could pull a Phillies broadcast from all the way up here. 

Things have changed a lot since then, and not just the domnipresence of Red Sox regalia on every store front, truck window, and child's t-shirt—before they won the WS, this stuff was nowhere to be seen. But we've also moved from the aging Cape cottage to a series of beach houses in Kennebunk Beach, each with stunning and glorious cable television and even some hot WiFi. In a huge week for the Phillies, I've missed little if anything. Beat writers' and bloggers' twitters kept me posted on every development of Cliff Lee Trade Day, which was particularly tough for me. The first day was tough though. Try spending every day tapped into twitter, sports talk radio, Comcast SportsNet, Philly.com, The700Level, TheFightins, Beerleaguer... and then get in the driver's seat of a car for 8 straight hours on the day the Phillies trade world finally explodes. Luckily I got to hear a not-yet-traded Lee on Jody & Harry before getting out of Philly radio range, then had a patient girlfriend riding shotgun to read me the comments on the aforementioned sites, and a sports-crazed uncle in the back seat getting calls from my cousins with every update. I have no shame in saying I'm an unabashed Phillies information junkie.
Pulling into our house in Maine, my brother-in-law met us on the front yard and yelled, CLIFF. LEE. Ruben Amaro's amazing heist was the topic of the next hour of conversation. What an age we live in. And throughout the first few days of Lee's new life in Philly, I haven't missed much. 

Hell, I even know what Andy Martino was wearing before Thursday's game (I agree with him, if Sarge gives you a hat, you WILL wear it, and that's not a bad Adidas track jacket, Martino). 
By far the best element of this tech Renaissance is MLB.tv, which has had my family huddled around a laptop watching the Phils in damn-near HD. This beats the hell out of Slingbox for watching games, although the first two games of the series weren't really worth watching, we got to witness the beginning of an amazing Phillies career last night. 
It hasn't all been great though, this info-crunch. Leading up to the Lee trade and yesterday's final deadline, there was definitely an overwhelming sense that the elements and means of new media were being dominated by stories that had little likelihood of actually coming true. How tired were we all of hearing what "baseball sources" were saying? What the hell is the difference between a source and baseball source? It certainly didn't prove to be veracity. But with so many "outlets," the more something was repeated, the more likely it seemed, which is obviously absurd. The trade deadline became a great illustration of whose info you could trust, and where individual sources placed their filters. 
Our group of Phillies beat writers are a relatively conservative bunch when it comes to what stories to report, and I'm increasingly appreciative of that. If you want rumors, there are plenty of places to find them. Although at times our guys can blend together, I can't recall a time when one of the current bunch led us astray. For the past two weeks, that's been huge. They even got a good laugh when some "sources" were reporting there was a "32" jersey hanging in the Phillies clubhouse during the height of the Halladay talks. There's a 32 hanging on wall in the outfield too. I was at the Vet when they retired it.
I'll be returning to my vacation now... the weather is perfect up here, as is the food, beer—everything. But the second I want to know what's going on at Eagles camp, I can pull up a report on how Weaver and McCoy look. Hope you'll all keep me posted on what happens with the Phillies rotation. 

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

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Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT – The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.

Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

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Frank Reich: Sam Bradford won't be handed Eagles' starting job

After the Eagles drafted quarterback Carson Wentz, head coach Doug Pederson declared that Sam Bradford was still the No. 1 quarterback.

Pederson reiterated it when a scowling Bradford chose to skip some voluntary workouts and did so again after Bradford returned to the team.

But Pederson's assistants haven't been so clear.

On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz discussed the topic when asked how he brought along QB Matt Stafford — the first overall pick in 2009 — while serving as head coach of the Detroit Lions. 

"Don't judge him on somebody else, and then also don't predetermine the results of the race," Schwartz said. "Just let him go play. Don't put pressure on him."

At the moment, it certainly seems like the results of the race are predetermined. It's Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz ... right? 

On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Frank Reich was on 94-WIP and was asked by Angelo Cataldi about the "impression" that Bradford is the No. 1 QB and there isn't an open competition. 

“No, I would actually say that’s probably not the right impression. I'll tell you why,” Reich said. “I’ve been around this business a long time as a player and as a coach, and one of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is it’s not a contradiction to say that you’ve got to have order. Because if you don’t order it’s chaos. 

"So if you’re the head coach you, gotta come in and you’ve gotta establish order. There has to be organization, there has to be order, but the other thing that, as coaches, that you’ve got to establish is a culture of competition. I mean this is one of the most competitive industries in the world — and so, to say that there’s not competition, that’s just the furthest thing from the truth.

“So I don’t see the problem with creating order and competition at the same time, personally. Every one of us as a coach and a player, you’re working harder to get better, but in that process you have to establish order, and things have a way of working themselves out.”

So there has to be a order — hence Pederson's QB depth chart — but there also has to be competition.

In other words, there is a depth chart, but it's written in pencil. And a big eraser is nearby.

Let the saga continue.

Training camp is still two months away.

New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

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New scheme, new Marcus Smith: 'You'll see a lot different Marcus'

It's a new year for the Eagles, but the same lowered expectations for Marcus Smith. The 2014 first-round pick recorded only seven tackles and 1½ sacks over his first two NFL seasons, so at this point you can forgive people for being pessimistic about his development.

Smith doesn't blame Eagles fans for being disappointed with his career up to this point. The 24-year-old isn't content with the way things have panned out thus far, either, but sounds as though he's ready to turn the page in a new scheme.

"I understand they want their first-round draft pick to play," Smith said of fan criticism. "I wanted to be on the field, but I wasn't. I learned a lot of things from my first to my second year and I think I've grown and matured a lot, and this third year you'll see a lot different Marcus."

That won't do much to sway public opinion that he's a draft bust. The Eagles, however, are hoping a position change will unlock the potential that led the club to take Smith with the 26th overall selection in the draft.

Smith came to the league a raw prospect to begin with, and was immediately asked to take on the many responsibilities of an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In a 4-3 alignment under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the third-year pro will line up at defensive end, where he'll primarily be used to create disruptions in opposing backfields.

"This is a scheme that greatly limits what he's asked to do," Schwartz said. "Difficult in execution, but easy in theory. Should allow him to play fast, attack spots, give him a little bit less responsibility but hopefully allow him to make a greater impact.

"He's very athletic. He's got great size. He's done very well so far, but let's reserve judgment on any of these guys until we get pads on them."

Smith admits it's a role he was more accustomed to playing in college.

"I never really dropped into coverage before," Smith said reminiscing of his time at Louisville. "I dropped into coverage in some spurts, I knew how to do it, I was athletic enough to do it, but their thing was they wanted me to go rush the passer and be able to make plays. That's what I'm doing now."

This could be an opportunity for Smith to hit the reset button, in a manner of speaking. He was overwhelmed and couldn't get on the field in a complex 3-4. Schwartz's 4-3, on the other hand, is much more streamlined, letting linemen pin their ears back and do one thing well rather than force them to be jacks of all trades.

"I feel like with Jim Schwartz, we have a great relationship to where I can just go make plays and not think about anything," Smith said. "He always talks about that with me. He says, 'Just go make plays, I don't want you to think.'

"Scheme is definitely more simplified. It's really just go get the ball. His philosophy is hit the ball on the way to the quarterback because we know sacks change games, so if you get a sack fumble and you're able to scoop and score, that's what changes a game. That's what Schwartz's philosophy is."

Believe it or not, there might still be hope for Smith. His 1½ sacks were registered in the final two games of the 2015 season, a late surge that could've been seen as a sign of progress, yet wound up flying under the radar at the conclusion of a lost year. After all, it's not at all uncommon for some players to need a year or two to adjust to life in the NFL.

If Smith has any chance of shedding the dreaded bust label, he certainly has a perfect mentor in teammate Brandon Graham. The 13th pick in 2010, Graham experienced similar hardships when his Eagles career didn't get off to a brilliant start, but has since proven to be a capable starter.

Graham's situation wasn't identical, as his progress and opportunities were derailed in large part because of injury. Regardless, he understands as well anybody the lack of playing time and criticism that comes with failing to live up to high expectations.

"We talk pretty much every day," Smith says of his relationship with Graham. "He actually went through something worse than I did because he went through a couple of years with not playing. He talks to me about it all the time, and told me to keep my head down and keep working and everything will fall into place."

As of now, Smith is currently lining up opposite Graham with the second-team defense, behind Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry. The Eagles also used a seventh-round pick on Alex McAllister.

Still, despite the competition, despite his lack of production to date, Smith is keeping a positive outlook and feels as though he has every opportunity to be productive as part of a rotation.

"The way we play and how fast we play, [Schwartz] wants an eight-man rotation," Smith said. "He wants us to be able to be fresh. All of us can play 25-30 snaps a game. He wants us to be well-rested and ready to go because we're gonna be going.

"Whoever is starting, whoever's not starting, I think when you get in the game, just go get it. Once the coaches put you in the ballgame, you've just gotta be able to make plays."

There's no question Smith is running out of chances with the Eagles, that his reclamation story is already beginning to wear thin. The truth is his roster spot might even be in jeopardy if the roster was much deeper, and any contribution in 2016 will be viewed as a pleasant surprise.

There's also no question the physical ability is there. Smith is 6-foot-3 with sub-4.7 speed and told reporters he weighs close to 260 pounds. Point him in one direction with a singular goal — get into the backfield — and the Eagles may squeeze some production out of him yet.