Mike Bartrum Gets Free Vacation

Mike Bartrum Gets Free Vacation

Mike Bartrum is not a Pro Bowl tight end but he sure can flick those wrists to get a nice spiral on the ball under his legs.  His skills as a long snapper have earned him a trip to be the third member of the Eagles going to the Pro Bowl.  Trotter was the only player voted in and Dawkins is a replacement.

Bartrum always seemed like a good guy and his sentiments on his trip to Hawaii seem to show it:

"I feel honored to be representing my team at the Pro Bowl," Bartrum
said in a statement released by the team. "It will be a very special
experience for me and my family.  Honors like this don't come along very often, and I plan to make the most of it."

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

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Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.

Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

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Union-Orlando City SC 5 things: First-place test for Jim Curtin's club

Union at Orlando City SC
7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet

The Union’s roll continued last weekend with a win over D.C. United in extra time, giving Jim Curtin’s club nine points in its last five games and a spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. But that momentum will be tested starting Wednesday night when the Union (5-3-3) make a quick turnaround to take on Orlando City SC (3-3-5) at the Camping World Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Defending first place
At first it was a fluke, then a random hot streak. But at the near quarter mark of the 2016 season, the Union are riding high in first place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s match against Orlando City SC.

“I’ve always believed that you start to get an assessment of your group after about a third of the games,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “That’s a good barometer. We are starting to form an identity as a team that’s very tough to break down defensively and is a very good home team. Now, we need to carry that mentality on to the road.”

That mentality, the one that’s helped the Union to a 5-3-3 record, is about consistency on the defensive side of the ball. The Union have given up only 11 goals in 11 games, good for second in MLS.

“We’re a team that’s going to be tough to score against,” Curtin said. “One goal against per game is good — that’s good goalkeeping and that’s good defending. There’s some things you’re starting to see that maybe define us and give us a little bit of identity.”

With nine points in their last five games, the Union take their hot run on the road, where they haven’t been good. First up, Orlando City SC on Wednesday and then the Western Conference-leading Colorado Rapids on Saturday. The Union are 1-3-1 away from Talen Energy Stadium.

“Two very hostile places, two very good teams,” Curtin said. “We’ll take every player on our roster on the trip, which is unique. We haven’t done that before. We are a deep team and everyone is going to contribute.”

2. Blake’s availability
The big question for the Union entering their two-game road swing was would star goalkeeper Andre Blake play after being called up to the Jamaican national team for the Copa America tournament? And if so, would he make both games?

Curtin had the answer on Wednesday, stating that Blake will play in both road matches (see story).

“Jamaica’s been excellent with us,” he said. “What is best for both parties is that he is with us up until [June 1]. The Columbus game is the only game he’ll miss.”

And that’s good news for the Union. Blake has been stellar this season, often making game-saving stops a habit on the road to three shutouts and a 76.1 save percentage — placing him among the best in MLS.

“He’s a big part of us getting points,” Curtin said. “Going into two hostile environments knowing that he’s going to be in there is very valuable.”

3. Orlando’s momentum
Despite just one win in their last seven games — a run that includes a 2-1 loss to the Union — Orlando City is still keeping pace in the East by way of three draws over that same span.

But coming off a win over the Montreal Impact, and in the midst of four home games of five matches, the Florida club wants to go from staying afloat to rocketing up the standings.

“Any time we step on the field, we’re looking to get three points,” Orlando’s Kevin Alston said. “For us, we want to build off of last game and move forward.”

But they have to go through the Union first to get that momentum rolling.

“They are a confident team,” Orlando coach Adrian Heath said. “You can see it’s a happy camp. They keep working hard, they don’t give in, it’s gonna be tough because they are coming here with confidence.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: The Union are a better team with Vincent Nogueira in the midfield. Which made it even more concerning when the Frenchman went out with an oblique injury prior to the match against D.C. United last Friday. And though Nogueira isn’t believed to be seriously injured, he, along with Ilsinho, will be a question on Wednesday. “I honestly don’t know whether they’ll be available by Wednesday,” Curtin said. “We’ll assess after Wednesday’s game and see what it looks like for Colorado.” If Nogueira can’t go, the Union will likely go with the same midfield lineup as they did against United, with Warren Creavalle in Nogueira’s spot and Brian Carroll sitting deeper as defensive mid.

Orlando: At 21 years old, Cyle Larin is already one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. He scored 17 goals in 24 starts in his rookie campaign and is continuing his ridiculous pace with six goals in nine starts this season. And the Union have taken notice. “He’s a great striker, one I rate very highly,” Curtin said. “We dodged a bullet because he wasn’t in the last time we played, so it’ll be a real challenge to shut him down, especially in their building.”

5. This and that
• The Union are undefeated against Orlando City all-time with a 2-0-1 record.

• Orlando City’s star midfielder Kaka came alive last weekend, notching two assists in his club’s 2-1 win over the Impact. Heath noted that as Kaka goes, Orlando goes, leaving Curtin to wish the legendary player was invited to the Brazilian national team for the Copa America tournament, missing the match. “Yeah, I’d rather play them without Kaka, for sure,” Curtin laughed.

• Dating back to Aug. 1, 2015, Orlando City is unbeaten at Camping World Stadium. The club is 6-0-6 in its last 12 matches at the venue.

From Chip Kelly's offense to Doug Pederson's, Eagles seeing what they missed

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From Chip Kelly's offense to Doug Pederson's, Eagles seeing what they missed

It's only May, but already something is very different about the Eagles' offense. It's moving a lot slower these days — and that might actually be a good thing.

Gone from practice is the frenetic, breakneck pace that focused on quantity of repetitions and play calls over quality, what became the hallmark of a Chip Kelly team. Under Doug Pederson, the offense huddles and makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage, uses snap counts instead of sheer speed to keep the defense off-balanced, and the head coach will even briefly halt the action if he feels the need to bark out instructions.

The two philosophies couldn't be more opposite, although there's probably a reason why Pederson and 30 other coaches in the league don't do everything as fast as possible, 100 percent of the time. One of those is to keep players fresh for the grueling football season that lies ahead.

"We have a lot more time to preserve our bodies," right tackle Lane Johnson said of Pederson's offense. "We're still going hard, but we're still going to have a lot in the tank come December or January, whenever we need our bodies to perform for us."

While it was often noted how Kelly's uptempo attack put pressure on his own defense, rarely was any mention made of the added strain it put on offensive personnel, as well. After all, they were running a higher number of plays than average too, which Johnson admits may have had an adverse effect on his performance and that of his offensive line mates.

"I can speak for myself, I can speak for a lot of the guys on the O-line, we don't have any rotation, it's us the whole year," Johnson said. "You go so fast for so long, there's only so much your body can do before ultimately it's going to fail you. I don't care who you are.

"But I think we're taking a better approach this year. We're getting our work in, but it's a better approach."

Reducing fatigue is only one potential benefit to Pederson's more traditional tactics. Players are also noticing they have more time to observe and react to what the defense is doing, rather than simply carrying out the calls that come in from the sideline as quickly as humanly possible.

The mental dynamic — at least on an individual level — had long been absent from the Eagles' offense. Players were given minimal time to prepare for what was coming on the next play, and if a call put somebody in poor position, there was precious little ability to adjust. Now all of a sudden, the quarterback has more freedom to change the play, while everybody has the opportunity to read the defense pre-snap.

"The biggest thing, obviously, is coming in out of the huddle," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "More time to assess situations, different checks, audibles, things like that that didn't come with a fast, hurry-up offense."

"You just have a lot more time to assess everything that's going on with the defense," Johnson said. "Instead of getting up to the line and snap the ball quick, you have more time to glance around, see where the blitz is coming from. You have more time to operate."

Another benefit to Pederson's traditional approach was on full display at Tuesday's practice (see 10 observations), during which the defense was caught jumping offsides numerous times. The Eagles have been reintroduced to snap counts, a seemingly minor wrinkle that's proven to be a very welcome return for the offense.

Snap counts are a simple device that keeps defenses honest, forcing linemen and blitzers to go off the sight of the ball moving alone rather than the sound of the quarterback's call. And if the defense crosses the line of scrimmage before the snap, it's a penalty that results in five yards and, sometimes, a free play.

It's not quite the same as getting lined up and snapping the ball in under 15 seconds, but it does give the offense a slight head start, even when it doesn't draw a flag.

"They're taught to get off the ball, but we're taught to have different snap counts," Johnson said. "That's the beauty of it. If they want to jump offsides, we'll take five yards every time.

"It just helps the offensive line. Guys want to jet up the field and rush and try to get off the ball quick, and if they do that and the ball's not snapped, then it's gonna be five yards for us. We try to incorporate that. It's different for us because we haven't had that the past few years with Chip. We just got up there and snapped the ball, tempo operation, so I think it's definitely going to be to our advantage."

Who would've thought something as basic as a snap count, which is employed by nearly every team at every level of football, might be something the Eagles would want to try?

If it sounds at all like any of this is throwing shade at Kelly, well, maybe it is, if only a little. While describing the differences between offenses, Matthews sort of implied tempo is used in part to hide flaws, rather than to attack the opponents' vulnerabilities.

"Last year, we just did stuff pretty much always in two-minute mode," Matthews said. "So it was a regular NFL offense, it was just two-minute drill the whole game, whereas now it's slowed down with longer play calls.

"Usually in that kind offense, the speed and the scheme is what people feel like are going to take care of most of the problems. When you come out slow and are dissecting what the defense is doing, they're not gassed, they're ready for every single play and we have to run plays more so off of what they give us, so it's a little different in that aspect."

Time will tell whether Pederson's style is more effective, but players certainly seem pleased by the changes thus far. Even something as simple as the head coach talking to the offense between plays or asking the players to run something back — not remotely unusual on most practice fields — had become unfamiliar to the Eagles.

"Sometimes in between plays we'll have a little time to discuss it," Johnson said. "We're going back to the huddle so the coach has time to discuss what went wrong on that play, what we can do to fix it the next time.

"It's just more input. We have a lot more time to communicate and get things communicated that way to help fix problems."

Imagine that. By slowing things down, Johnson just made the case Pederson is actually getting more done. Maybe you don't always have to go 100 miles per hour to maximize the offense.