Playoff Guide in Today's Daily News: Link
Eagles rookie seventh-round pick Alex McCalister was placed on the injured reserve on Sunday and will miss his entire rookie season.
Now it’s time to eat.
McCalister, 22, said he’s going to use this year — after a conveniently timed left calf tear that doesn’t need surgery — to bulk up.
“Of course it’s frustrating, the fact that my rookie year I can’t get out there and play, but you can always turn something bad into something good,” McCalister said. “I can almost look at this as a redshirt year, just adding on that extra bulk, learning the playbook, stuff like that. It’s not all bad in my eyes.”
The rookie from Florida is 6-foot-6, with freakishly long 36-inch arms, but desperately needed to put on more weight coming out of college. Coming into the NFL, McCalister said he weighed just 236 pounds. On Monday, he said he’s up to 254.
How did he put on the weight?
“Cheesesteaks,” the rookie said.
He hopes to add an additional 10 pounds during his redshirt year, which would have him at around 264 (the same weight as Connor Barwin) — 30 pounds heavier than when he entered the league.
Will it be tough for McCalister to learn how to play at that new weight?
“As long as I have the strength behind it, I won’t lose any speed at all,” he said. “I feel like it won’t be that big of a deal.”
The Eagles took McCalister in the seventh round of the draft this spring after the Florida prospect went through a draft-day slide amid character concerns. Upon his arrival to Philadelphia, McCalister adamantly denied a report that he was kicked off Florida’s football team, but said he spent a good portion of his interviews with teams answering questions about his maturity.
It’s easy to see why the Eagles took a chance on him, though. He’s athletic and long and has the kind of traits teams want to see in a pass rusher.
Now he’ll have an extra year, which he said will “definitely” help him to become more NFL-ready.
“Just having that extra time to gain that weight, dive into the playbook even more,” McCalister said. “By this time next year, I’ll be ready to go.”
After a grueling preseason practice in the summer heat last Tuesday, Temple football players, their gear drenched with sweat, gathered at the Temple logo at midfield at Chodoff Field on campus and took a knee on the turf to listen to a familiar voice.
But it wasn’t that of head coach Matt Rhule or any other member of the Owls’ coaching staff.
It was the voice of former Eagles and Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, whose message was simple yet effective: “Hard work is not a punishment.”
That’s a motto the Owls have to live by this season if they want to live up to the lofty goal they’ve collectively set for themselves.
As senior linebacker and defensive leader Avery Williams explained, the 2016 Owls are determined to be “the greatest Temple team ever.” The motivation and conviction for that goal comes from the nightmarish ending to last year’s dream season.
“Man, we ended the season with a losing record,” Williams said of last December’s losses to Houston in the AAC title game and Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl. “We lost those two games. That’s not good at all around here.
"We want to be the greatest Temple team ever, every year. When I leave, I want those dudes to focus on being the greatest Temple team that year. Nobody’s complacent around here. We want to get better each year and just keep getting better.”
It’s one thing to say you want to be the greatest at anything. It’s another animal to go out there and actually do it.
By now, most know the tale of Temple’s 10-3 campaign in 2015, which included landmark moments such as the first win over Penn State since 1941, the classic primetime showdown with Notre Dame and the first-ever AAC Eastern Division title, among other things.
Needless to say, topping those achievements will be a hefty task for a team that needs to replace plenty on the defensive side of the ball with three leaders who’ve moved on to the NFL.
But Rhule’s message to his team coming into camp was to forget all about last season because, as far as he wants his team to be concerned, last season is over and is just a figment of imagination.
And with just a few days left until Friday’s 2016 opener against Army at The Linc, it seems Rhule’s edict has gotten through to his players.
“Yeah, there is pressure, but that’s what athletes live for. They live for the pressure of being that same team or being better than last year’s team,” said senior quarterback Phillip Walker, who's coming off a record-breaking season in 2015 and remains one of the Owls’ key components. He’s looking to become the first quarterback in program history to lead the Owls to back-to-back bowl games.
“[This season] is an opportunity for us for to be great this year again and we’re looking forward to it," Walker said. "I think we have a great team that’s willing to go out there and put everything on the line each week just to have success at the end of the season.”
“We have a motto around here saying we want to be 1-0 every week,” said senior running back Jahad Thomas, who’s part of a deep and talented backfield. “We want to be undefeated once it’s all said and done and that’s the goal here. … What comes with that is great execution. We all gotta be in sync — offense, defense and special teams.”
The fact of the matter is that, after last season’s new heights of success, expectations for Temple’s program have risen. And, in all likelihood, they’ll continue to rise.
Williams feels the key to dealing with those rising expectations is not worrying about them and focusing only on what the players themselves can control.
“If the hat’s on your head, you’ve got to produce,” said Williams, a Baltimore native who amassed 49 tackles and an interception last season.
“We never pay attention to the opponent, it’s all how can we get ourselves better and what are we doing wrong? In life, you never getting beaten by another person, you’re really beating yourself. You messed up. If you’re not working as hard as you can in school, it’s your fault. It’s not the teacher’s fault for making the test. You never look at the opponent, you always look at yourself and see how you can get better.
“We don’t pay attention to nobody else but ourselves. We always look interior, never exterior. When you start looking on the outside world, then you’ll start letting the outside world affect you. So you have to look at what’s wrong with you and what’s great with you and how to perfect it.”
To achieve their goal this season, the Owls know they’ll likely have to go through Houston, the defending conference champion and heavy AAC favorite entering this season. No. 15 in the AP preseason poll, the Cougars demolished Florida State in last year’s Peach Bowl after vanquishing Temple in the AAC title game.
Houston (West) and Temple (East) will not meet during the regular season as both are in different divisions of the AAC. The two teams can only meet this season in a conference title game rematch.
The Cougars are on the minds of the Owls as the season gets ready to begin, but the Owls know there’s work to do first before any shot at Houston becomes a realistic option.
“We haven’t beaten Houston since I got here, so I really want to get after them,” said Williams, one of the Owls' most-trusted voices on defense. “But in order to beat Houston, we’ve got to go through all 12 games on our schedule. So we have to take it one day at time.”
It all begins again Friday night.
Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.
Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.
This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' starting five for opening night.
Let’s preface this prediction with this projection: this lineup will change multiple times throughout the season. I expect Joel Embiid to be in the starting five once he transitions into his rookie year, his first since he was drafted in 2014. The Sixers also will have to assess how different combinations translate onto the court, which will play out in game competition.
Back to opening night. The backcourt is up for grabs at both positions. Last season’s starting point guard Ish Smith signed with the Pistons and Brett Brown has said he plans to start Ben Simmons, who can play point-forward, at the four spot. Jerryd Bayless has the edge over Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell with his proven veteran experience in the NBA. The same goes for Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. That starting role is up for grabs given the inconsistencies of it last season, and that rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will be developing off the bench (or time in the Development League).
Small forward is intriguing because the Sixers have so many bigs who can play the four and five … so who’s the best fit for three? Dario Saric played power forward in Europe, but if Brown wants to incorporate him into the starting lineup, he could slide him into this spot. Saric’s former teammate Stephane Lasme told CSNPhilly.com he could see Saric having offensive success at small forward with his size advantage, and defensively he could be challenged. The Sixers may go with non-traditional lineups when it comes to this position.
The power forward spot goes to Simmons. While he will handle point guard responsibilities, Brown wants to start him at the four at the beginning of his NBA career.
So that brings us to center, the position that was in question last season and still is now. The conundrum of how to utilize Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor still exists. Both are natural fives, and last year they struggled playing out of position. I gave Noel the nod over Okafor in this starting combination because of the way he can run the court in an up-tempo system and spread the floor with Simmons.
While the Sixers' final roster decisions shouldn't be too taxing for Brown, putting together the starting five will certainly prove to be tougher. Figuring out five players that mesh well on the court can take time and it will likely change throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.
The Sixers have options at point guard after signing Bayless and Rodriguez during free agency, but Bayless should get the nod here. His career numbers are better across the board than Rodriguez, who will take some time to readjust to the NBA game after not playing in the league since 2009-10. Plus, Bayless' ability as an outside shooter (shot career-high 43.7 percent from three-point range last season) and the fact that he doesn't need to operate with the ball in his hands should make him an instant fit with No. 1 pick Simmons.
Shooting guard all comes down to what Brown wants in his starting lineup. Free-agent signee Henderson is clearly the best option, but Brown might prefer having the luxury of his skill set coming off the bench with Nik Stauskas opening up with the first unit. With that said, I still think Henderson will play with the starters. He gives the Sixers enough offense and is an upgrade on the defensive end.
The small forward spot belongs to Robert Covington ... for now. Sure, Saric is finally in the fold and figures to see time at that slot at some point in the future. I just don't see the Sixers throwing the Croatian into the fire during his rookie season. Jerami Grant will also snag minutes here, but he doesn't figure to get any consideration as a starter.
Power forward belongs to Simmons. That is all.
The crowded center position will be the Sixers' toughest selection. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction and won't play in back-to-back sets after missing two seasons, so he's likely out. That leaves Okafor and Noel. If you're like those in our CSN newsroom, you either fall in the Okafor camp or the Noel camp. Not both. I guess that means I'm on the Okafor side. I understand the complaints about his defense and they are very valid, but when you give up 107.6 points per game as a team, that means everyone could stand to improve on D. Yes, even Noel. Okafor's talent on the other end, however, isn't up for debate. He can fill it up and will benefit from a gifted passer such as Simmons feeding him the ball.
Simmons, Henderson and Covington are almost locks to start. Many have penciled in Bayless at point guard because of his ability to shoot and how that will mesh with Simmons' playing style. Fair point, but Bayless is not a true point guard. Brown said that while he toyed with the notion of starting Simmons as a point guard, he didn't want to put that much on the rookie's plate. Enter Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is a true point guard that excels in the pick-and-roll, has excellent court vision and offers a calming influence. El Chacho, as the kids are calling him, has a great deal of experience in the Euroleague, taking home an MVP award and a championship with Real Madrid. He's not a knock-down shooter, but he can hit the occasional open three. His chemistry with Pau Gasol during the Olympics made me think of the possibilities of Rodriguez playing with Embiid, Okafor and Noel.
As far as center goes, you can really just take your pick. I'm going with Okafor only because he'll be the most helpful player to Simmons on the offensive end with his hands and ability to finish around the basket. Certainly Brown could opt for Noel if he wants a better defensive lineup. Both players may just be keeping that starting spot warm for Embiid.