Man Alive, There Are Men Alive Out There! Kendrick and Phils Light Up Bucs

Man Alive, There Are Men Alive Out There! Kendrick and Phils Light Up Bucs

The Phillies narrowly avoided losing their third straight of a four-game set out in Pittsburgh, edging out the Buccos by a 12-4 count. 

Boats lined up outside to see the holiday weekend's fireworks with the gorgeous PNC Park and the Roberto Clemente Bridge as their backdrop, but the blasts went off a bit early tonight. The Phils' bats were alive from the start in this one, notching runs in the first (2), third (5), fourth (1), fifth (2), sixth (1), and seventh (1). Phils fans who made the trip out for the weekend finally got to see something worth the drive, after watching the visitors net a whopping two runs in the first two games of the series. 

Kyle Kendrick led the ice-cream-man capped Phils in the field on Saturday night, working fairly efficiently while allowing just three earned runs over a complete game—his first in 67 career starts.The newly called up Cody Ransom dropped a routine fly by Delmon Young in the eighth, allowing Young to advance to second on the play; Young would score on a two-out double, but Kendrick otherwise emerged unscathed. In the ninth, Kendrick allowed a few hits for a game total of 10, gave up another run, but then retired the next batter to close out with no help from the 'pen. 

Would have taken a hell of an inning by the Pirates to wage a comeback, but KK's work late in this one was a win within the win. 

At the plate, J-Roll and Victorino each had three hits, with Rollins leading off the game with a single and later adding a homer, a double, and a walk before calling it a night. Ryan Howard singled twice to add three RBI to his season total (58) and bring his average up to .296. Every Phillies starter, including Kendrick, grabbed a hit tonight. Wa-hoo!

An odd moment ended that eighth frame, with Kendrick giving up a long fly to left-center, which Shane Victorino successfully hauled in at the wall just in front of the Phillies bullpen. After snaring the ball, Vic appeared a little unhappy with Jose Contreras. Who knows what Big Truck did to deserve the yapping he got. Wheels speculated it was the lack of a warning that he was near the fence. I think he was yelling "DON'T DROP IT. NUNAN!"

Sure the Pirates suck and all, but we'll take any win we can get with the MASH unit lineup the Phils are fielding due to so many regulars being on the DL. Minus their regular 2, 3, and 6 hitters, plus their top two catchers, the Phils and their fifth starter smoked the Bucs in front of a packed house (everyone not wearing red was there to see the post-game fireworks). 

The series wraps Sunday with a 1:35 start. 

Beau Allen, Taylor Hart prove they’re scheme fits, outlast competition

Beau Allen, Taylor Hart prove they’re scheme fits, outlast competition

Plenty of people outside the Eagles’ organization — and probably a few inside — doubted that Beau Allen and Taylor Hart would be able to play in Jim Schwartz’s aggressive 4-3 defense. 

But Allen and Hart never doubted themselves. 

“I think for whatever reason, we got brought in to two-gap and I think we got labeled as two-gappers, and for whatever reason, that kind of stuck,” Allen said. “And when people think of two-gappers, they think, ‘This guy will stay on blocks and aren’t as athletic.’ I guess what I’m trying to say I think there’s a different perception between guys that two-gap and guys that play in the defense we play. 

“We’ve known all along that we can do this. And I think all the guys in the locker room have known that. It’s just kind of flipping that switch in your brain and getting used to a new mentality and scheme and being comfortable in it.”

Over the past month, they’ve shown they can indeed fit in Schwartz’s defense. 

Allen and Hart were drafted in the seventh and fifth rounds, respectively, in the 2014 draft. Allen was seen as a prototypical nose tackle and Hart a 3-4 end. While Allen played in an attacking defense in college, Hart had never played a 4-3 tackle in college or the pros. 

Still, they have both seemingly earned spots on the Eagles’ 53-man roster. 

“I hope that the play I’ve done out here in these three preseason games has shown that I’m not just a 3-4 guy,” Hart said. “I can play both schemes.”

For a long time, veteran free agent pickup Mike Martin was considered not just a roster lock, but also a rotation player on the defensive line. He worked as the third tackle for a lot of the offseason before hurting his knee. He missed a couple weeks and was recently cut. 

So how did Martin go from being a contributor to off the team?  

“The knee just never came back,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It just never bounced back, and it is hard. It's tough for players and veteran players like that. You're making decisions that are kind of out of his control.”

With Martin gone, the top two backup tackles appear to be Allen and Hart, while undrafted rookies Destiney Vaeao and Aziz Shittu appear to be on the outside looking in.

With a roster spot already likely locked in, Allen will play in the preseason finale against the Jets, where he joked he hopes to pad his stats. Hart’s preseason is already over. He has knee and ankle injuries that will keep him out for the Jets' game, but Pederson said Hart will be ready for the opener. 

Ready for the opener? That sounds like Hart has already won a job. 

“I didn’t hear that,” Hart said. “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

Allen and Hart roomed together during their rookie seasons and remain close friends. They also worked incredibly hard this offseason to pickup a new defense and shed that “two-gapper” label. 

One guy who might not be as surprised about Allen and Hart’s success in the defense is the guy in charge of it. Back in early August, before the pair showed what they could do in a game, Schwartz was asked about them and said, “Don’t sell those guys short. Just because that's what they were asked to do doesn't mean [that’s] the only thing [they’re capable of doing].

Turns out he was right. 

Was there ever really that preconceived notion that they couldn’t play in this defense? 

“Maybe from you guys (media),” Hart said with a smile. “I believed in myself.”

It looks like that belief is paying off. 

Josh Huff has been talking to a sports psychologist

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AP

Josh Huff has been talking to a sports psychologist

One of the most frustrating Eagles in recent memory, talent has never been the issue for Josh Huff. The third-year wide receiver can create separation and runs well with the ball in his hands. He's a plus blocker, contributes on special teams and gives constant effort.

Huff makes big plays from time to time, but what really stands are the miscues. The dropped passes. The fumbles. The missed assignments. The only think that's been keeping the 24-year-old from carving out a bigger role in the offense making an impact is himself.

Apparently Huff realizes that too, because as he revealed to Turron Davenport for USA Today, the 2014 third-round draft pick has been seeing a sports psychologist. In fact, apparently he's been reaching out for a little help since last year.

“I have been talking to a psychologist about football,” Huff said. “I have been too hard on myself when dropping balls. I also know that it will happen in this league. It’s a long season; you’re not going to catch every pass. That’s what I had to realize.

“I did it some last year (sports psychologist), and it didn’t help me too much. The one that I have now, he’s amazing. He is helping me elevate my game. I had a pregame routine that I got away from but after talking to him, I started doing it again.”

Huff certainly seems to believe it's helping, but whether it will equate to results on the field remains to be seen. He had a big game against the Colts on Saturday, catching two passes for 60 yards and carrying twice for 10 and a touchdown. Of course, Huff dropped a ball against the Steelers one week earlier, and fumbled another against the Bucs in the opener.

If Huff can keep his head in the game, this Eagles coaching staff appears poised to find ways to get him the rock. They've been designing all sorts of screens and quick passes to make more use of what is arguably his best skill, running after the catch.

Of course, the first part of running after the catch is catching the football, and the second part is not fumbling afterward. You have the appreciate Huff's dedication to his craft that when he admits speaking to a sports psychologist, but it's only him out there on the field on Sundays.

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

Penn State season preview: Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

There are certain corners of the Interwebs where things are said and written just for effect.

Perhaps you’ve heard.

That being the case, it should come as no surprise that one scalding take heading into this college football season is that Penn State coach James Franklin is on the hot seat.

It’s understandable if you consider the fact that the Langhorne native has finished 7-6 each of his first two seasons, or that he is a combined 0-6 against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, the three teams he absolutely must beat to succeed in the rugged Big Ten East.

(Also to be taken into account is that the Lions lost to Maryland two years ago for the first time since 1961, and to Temple last year for the first time since 1941.)

Take a step back, though. Consider that he is still dealing with the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal — that, specifically, the draconian NCAA sanctions left him with a threadbare roster when he arrived from Vanderbilt.

Consider further that his own athletic director, Sandy Barbour, has his back, and that he is entering just the third year of a six-year contract.

Hot seat? Well, maybe a little toasty, but nothing more.

For the record, Franklin declined to play along when asked Tuesday afternoon about any noise pertaining to his job. He said during the Big Ten coaches’ conference call that he was concerned only with the task at hand — Saturday’s season opener against Kent State in Beaver Stadium and the day-to-day machinations of his team.

“Focus on that, not anything else,” he said. “Not any other conversations or anything else going on. Focus on the things we can control.”

He has said on other occasions that he considers this Year One of his program, since he finally has a full complement of 85 scholarship players (or thereabouts) at his disposal. He and his staff have consistently brought in top-notch recruits, something best reflected at the skill positions.

The Lions, however, are painfully young (12 players with senior eligibility) and have a new quarterback (redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley), questions along both lines and little depth on linebacker. They are also facing a tough schedule, especially early. September includes visits to Pitt and Michigan sandwiched around a home meeting with Temple, and later they not only face the Buckeyes and Spartans but an always-respectable Iowa club.

So if they tank — if, say, they go 4-8 (not an impossibility) — then it is safe to say that Franklin might be in jeopardy. If they again piddle along in the middle of the pack, which seems more likely, he will almost certainly get another year.

McSorley, a smallish run-pass threat (at 6 feet, 201 pounds), would appear to be a better fit for Franklin’s preferred offensive mode than the departed Christian Hackenberg, a classic dropback type — particularly since new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, formerly the head coach at Fordham, has brought his no-huddle spread attack to Happy Valley.

McSorley spelled an injured Hackenberg midway through last season’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia, going 14 for 27 for 142 yards and two touchdowns, and he certainly has a pedigree. He was a rare four-year starter at Briar Woods High School in Virginia, leading his team to four consecutive state finals and winning the first three of those.

“Trace just has that gene inside him that just makes him a competitor, and just a winner,” said Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne, once McSorley’s high school teammate.

That is literally true. McSorley’s dad, Rick, played football at Richmond, and a paternal uncle, Jeff, played at Marshall. But McSorley has seemingly taken that DNA and run with it.

In his very first high school game he led his team, minus its top two running backs, on a game-winning 88-yard drive in the final minutes. And in his career he won 55 of 60 games.

“He was kind of smart beyond his years,” Briar Woods coach Charlie Pierce said. “I’ve been coaching for 27 years and a head coach for 17 years at a couple different high schools, and I’ve only experienced a couple players that had a football acumen like Trace. Trace had the best, by far, at an early age.”

Now he will be entrusted with a unit that promises to be heavy on run-pass options.

“I think that’s going to be one of the best things of our offense,” McSorley said, “because the defense can in one sense never be right.”

He has a guy who can run in sophomore Saquon Barkley (a school freshman-record 1,076 yards last year) and a bunch of guys who can catch, headed by Chris Godwin (69-1,101-5 TDs) and DaeSean Hamilton (45-580-6 TDs).

But the line remains a question, and only one projected starter — right tackle Andrew Nelson — will open in the same position he filled a year ago. (The new left guard is Ryan Bates, a redshirt freshman from Archbishop Wood.)

The defensive line, which lost three NFL players in Austin Johnson (Titans), Anthony Zettel (Lions) and Carl Nassib (Browns), is likewise unsettled. Only end Garrett Sickels returns.

Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White, a Philadelphia native, was lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in the 2015 opener against Temple. The fifth-year senior is back and will man the weak side, after playing the middle last year.

Jason Cabinda slid over from the weak side to fill the breach when Wartman-White was injured, and led the team with 100 tackles. He’s also back. So too is Brandon Bell (Mays Landing, N.J./Oakcrest High) on the strong side. He made 65 tackles last year despite “playing with two bad wheels” and “a shoulder that kept popping out,” according to Brent Pry, who was promoted to defensive coordinator after Bob Shoop left for Tennessee.

The secondary is likewise well-fortified, and includes cornerback John Reid, a sophomore from St. Joe’s Prep.

Bottom line: There are too many questions surrounding the Lions to believe they can challenge Ohio State and Michigan atop the division, and (perhaps) enough to drop them below the .500 mark for the first time since 2004. Split the difference, then. Figure that they remain a middle-of-the-road club, and that Franklin’s seat doesn’t become too hot to the touch.

Not yet, anyway.

Freelance writer Gordie Jones is a regular contributor to CSNPhilly.com.