Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

Eagles Better or Worse: Receivers

While there was rampant change throughout most of the roster, the wide receivers and tight ends were largely unscathed, at least as far as the impact players are concerned. A few veterans were dumped, and some competition was brought in at the back end, but all of the starters remain intact, including the slot receiver. That type of consistency should be a tremendous help for a first-year starter at quarterback, but the question we're asking is whether the group is better or worse?

BETTER

Jeremy Maclin

This might be up for some debate, as we're going out on a bit of a limb predicting Maclin will continue to develop and make advances in his second pro season. That's just what's expected of wide receivers entering their sophomore year, and from what we saw from him as a rookie, we're comfortable projecting a leap forward.

The question is what type of receiver Maclin will become. He has big play ability, racking up three catches over 50 yards already, including the 76-yard touchdown reception in the Wild Card loss to the Cowboys, yet he only went over 100 yards on two occasions the entire season. Instead, he was merely dependable, particularly down the stretch where he went eight straight (injury-free) games with at least four catches and 50 yards.

That's a strong finish for a rookie season, something most people anticipate him building upon in 2010.

Brent Celek

We touched on the idea of Celek seeing an improvement in production again. Most people think it's unlikely after the Pro Bowl caliber digits he threw up in '09. Is a near-1,000 yard effort something he can seriously outperform?

There are a couple reasons why it may not be such a stretch. First of all, Celek battled through some torn ligaments in his hand toward the end of last season. While it didn't keep him out of the lineup, or even from remaining a frequent target, there were some issues with reliability. Pro Football Focus lists him third among tight ends with eight dropped passes, half of those occurring over the final six games of the season. We'll give him a pass and believe that total will drop.

The main indicator was what he achieved in two games with Kevin Kolb under center. Kolb looked for Celek frequently, which should come as no surprise given how much they worked together in practice and an inexperienced quarterback's tendency to rely on the tight end. It resulted in two of his biggest games of the season, a pair of consecutive eight reception, 104 yard days and a 35-yard touchdown. They are in sync, and over a full season, Celek could emerge as one of the elite pass catching tight ends in the NFL.

Tight End depth

Over the past few years, Andy Reid has managed to enter the season without one fairly essential, but easily overlooked piece of the club. In '07, the lack of an experienced punt returner cost them a game. In '08, they had a defensive player lining up as their regular fullback. Last season, you could make the case it was tight end depth.

The Eagles failed to sign a tight end in free agency, and didn't bother to draft one until the fifth round. Cornelius Ingram promptly went down with an injury, which left... um, nobody actually. Literally. They brought in Alex Smith, who seemed capable enough as a blocker, but only managed to contribute three catches all year.

They'll still be an inexperienced bunch behind Celek, although they hope to have added some insurance. Clay Harbor is an athletic prospect who played tight end, fullback, and even some wide receiver in college. Meanwhile, Ingram is recovering from another ACL tear, and while he hasn't even seen a down in the NFL, that's another high ceiling player if he can stay on the field.

At the very least, they added an extra body, and overall there is some solid potential behind Celek now.

WORSE

Experience

Nobody is going to miss Reggie Brown or Kevin Curtis. Each had their moment here, however brief; Brown's career got off to a promising start before falling off the face of the earth, and Curtis reached the 1,000 yard milestone in his first season in Philadelphia before getting derailed by injuries. Just wasn't meant to be here for either man, as the two combined for a lowly 15 catches in '09.

There's something to be said for removing both from the roster though. It should be noted Brown has more catches and yards than any Eagles receiver or tight end over the last five years, and Curtis was the only player between T.O. and DJac to gain over 1,000 yards through the air. While both are probably fringe starters at best now, they both have plenty of games under their belt, experience in the system, and have been known to fill up the stat sheet once in awhile. That has to count for something.

OVERVIEW

We all knew where this was going. There simply wasn't much change across the board, but particularly among the major players at wide receiver and tight end. Everybody is back. It's actually pretty silly to say they're better now, because they could already be considered among the best units in the league, but they sure as hell aren't any worse. Should be another fun season watching this group flying down the field.

Grade: Better

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs continue to dominate the Phillies with extra-base hits and terrific starting pitching.
 
They beat the Phils for the second day in a row Saturday. The final score at Wrigley Field was 4-1. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks went the distance for the win. The Phils scored in the ninth inning to avoid a shutout.
 
The Phils have been held to two or fewer runs 18 times and one or fewer 11 times. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game.
 
The Cubs, who lead the majors with 33 wins, have stroked nine extra-base hits in the first two games of the series and four of them have been homers. The Phils have just three extra-base hits, all doubles. One was a misplay by the Cubs’ outfield.
 
The Phillies are 1-4 on this six-game road trip, which started in Detroit.
 
The Phils have lost six of their last eight games and are now just three games over .500 at 26-23.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff was not nearly as efficient as he was in his previous start when he threw just 85 pitches in seven innings in a 5-0 win over Atlanta. This time, Eickhoff threw a season-high 109 pitches over six innings. He gave up eight hits, four for extra bases and four runs. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
Eickhoff was tagged for three extra-bases hits in the first inning, a home run and two doubles. For the season, Eickhoff is 2-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
 
Hendricks held the Phillies to five hits, three of which were singles. He was not overpowering, but his command was exceptional. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven while throwing just 104 pitches.
 
Jon Lester held the Phillies to one earned run in 6⅓ innings Friday.
 
Bullpen report
The Cubs didn’t need one. Andrew Bailey and Elvis Araujo pitched scoreless ball for the Phillies.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just five hits. Ryan Howard returned to the starting lineup and went 0 for 4 to drop to .154.
 
The Cubs, who hit three home runs Friday, got their power game going early as Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer against Eickhoff. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both doubled in the inning as the Cubs went up 2-0 in the first. Heyward doubled home a run in the second inning.
 
Up next
The Phillies and Cubs close out the series Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75) pitches for the Phillies against right-hander John Lackey (4-2, 3.83).
 
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a 10-game homestand that will see Washington, Milwaukee and the Cubs comes to town.

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

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USA Today Images

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

DALLAS -- New Orleans Pelicans rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot after breaking down the door to a Dallas apartment, authorities said Saturday.

Officers were called early Saturday and found the 23-year-old player collapsed in an outdoor passageway, Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said in a statement. Dejean-Jones was taken to a hospital where he died.

A person living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, Black said. The man retrieved a handgun and fired when Dejean-Jones began kicking the bedroom door.

Dejean-Jones was from Los Angeles and it wasn't immediately clear why he was in Dallas.

"We are devastated at the loss of this young man's life (and) who had such a promising future ahead of him," the Pelicans said in a statement.

In his only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

He was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points in 33 games. He shot a career-best 47.6 percent in his lone season as a Cyclone. He also played at Southern California and UNLV.

"This is a very, very sad and tragic day for everyone that's a part of the Cyclone basketball family," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a "passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance."

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."