Serenity Now

Serenity Now

By Chamomiles Davis 

If there is one that I, speaking as
a Philadelphia sports fan, have in short supply it is serenity. The
word itself means little to me. It is a state of mind experienced elsewhere
only.

Living in a town with four major sporting
franchises that did nothing but get gut-punched season after ringless
season for twenty-five years, the words best used to describe our own
state of mind would be, to suggest a few: "anguish," "turmoil,"
"despair," "disgust," "belligerence,"
"self-hatred," "stress leading to premature baldness,"
and "drunk." Not necessarily in that order, mind you.

The Phillies finally ended the drought
last October which, don't get me wrong, was absolutely beautiful. I
cried, let me put it that way. But I'm not talking about the Fightins.
Or the Flyers. Or, um... (Geez, what's their name? You know, that basketball
team that used to play in Philly? They were pretty good, too. What were
they called? Oh, right -- the Warriors.)

Every year at an Eagles press conference
that follows yet another fruitless season (this year makes 49, for those
masochists who keep count), I'm supposed to be sucked in by a self-deluded
cabal of owners and coaches who want us to believe that "this is
the year," when I'm not entirely sure these people are convinced
by their own words.

Or maybe they are, when I hear some
of the insane quotes emanating from the Eagles team president. We're
the "gold standard," Mr. Banner? Really? So then I guess that
would make the Patriots the platinum standard, and the Steelers some
kind of ultra-precious metal that hasn't been discovered yet.

Banner also likes to point out that
for the last several years the best team has NOT been the one who won
the Super Bowl. Riiiiight. And I'll bet the teams that keep beating
Philly in the NFC Championship Game must downright SUCK. Please.

Getting back to this "serenity"
concept: Each year Eagles fans are taunted with the recurring notion
that the missing pieces are finally in place. Everyone's happy, sufficiently
healthy and focused on one goal: Mr. Lombardi's trophy. Experts will
wax endlessly about how much of a threat the Eagles are going to be
in the NFC, blah blah blah, then generously present Philadelphia with
10-12 gift-wrapped wins before a single meaningful down has been played.

Then we as a fan base get to spend
an evening in early February following a decades-long tradition: Watching
another team win the Super Bowl. What fun, especially when that team
we're watching happens to be the Cowboys, Giants or Redskins. Suddenly
their fans crawl out from the sewers, appearing before our eyes as if
by magic. They take great pleasure in reminding us that, with the departure
of Arizona to the NFC West, that we are the only team in our division
not only without a single championship, but at least three.

The summer months just fly by after
that, I can tell you. Then we have to perform a collective lobotomy,
block out the pain, and renew our hopes that this year, Joe Banner and
Jeff Lurie aren't just talking out of their asses. Well, you can; I'm
done.

I've decided that it is time that serenity
trumps crushed expectations. In order to achieve this elusive mindset,
I've had to come to grips with one sad, yet undeniable fact.

No matter how good they become, no
matter how weak the competition may seem, the Philadelphia Eagles are
never, EVER going to win the Super Bowl. Ever.

If the National Football League lasts
for another 200 years, I am convinced that every team (yes, even Arizona)
will win at least one Super Bowl. Except the Eagles.

The Lions can't suck this bad forever.
The Browns were once a mighty and glorious team and I believe they will
be again. Houston will stumble into a championship sooner or later.
Tennessee is due. Buffalo and Minnesota are WAYYYYY due.

The Eagles will never win one, though,
because they've never been able to defeat their toughest opponent: themselves.
Whenever they are poised on the brink of glory, there is a self-manufactured
catastrophe brewing on the horizon. I'll blame the fog for what happened
in 1988. But I blame nerves for 1980, overconfidence for 2002, weak
receivers for 2003, and vomit for 2004.

No game plan devised by an opposing
team's coach could have done more damage than the Eagles did to themselves
in those years, years in which the Promised Land was just in sight,
tantalizingly close.

Don't get me wrong. I WANT the Eagles
to win a Super Bowl. I want them to win ten of them, all in a row. I
want the fans of other teams to hate us for something other than our
reputation as a sports town. But ask me if I think they will, and my
answer remains, "No way. Never."

There's my conundrum. How can I root
for a team that both my gut and my brain says has no shot to soothe
the anguish which has been accumulating ever since Buck Shaw(!) outcoached
Vince Lombardi in December of 1960? Why put myself through this?

Why? Because I love football, and because
I could never root for another team. I could especially never root for
a team that has already experienced success, which would make me that
despicable breed of sub-human known as a front-runner.

If nothing else, I can tell myself
that believing the Birds will never achieve total success is simply
a reverse-jinx, and thus I can hope for a parade down Broad Street any
day now. But I'm not holding my breath. Instead I will settle down and
watch my beloved Eagles grunt and sweat their way through another disappointing
season, awash in a sea of newfound serenity.

Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

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Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

Anyone who follows the NFL knows to avoid reading too much into spring workouts. You don't gain valuable insight into a player's game-day ability by observing his speed in shorts or run-stuffing technique when tackles aren't being made.

First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sidestepped several questions after Tuesday's OTA about how specific players are fitting into his defensive scheme, but he made an exception for one position group in particular: his starting safeties.

The Eagles this offseason spent $35 million apiece to extend Malcolm Jenkins and sign Rodney McLeod away from the Rams. Jenkins got $21 million guaranteed, McLeod got $17 million, and they rank fifth and ninth among NFL safeties, respectively, in annual average salary.

"That was money well spent," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I'm sort of violating my rule of judging too much into this time of year — saying linemen need the pads on before we can judge, rookies let's not judge yet — but both [Jenkins and McLeod] are veteran players. And you can see that right away that both are multi-dimensional. They communicate very well, cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man (coverage), they can play zone. I'd be very surprised as the year went along if they're not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They've been very impressive so far."

Jenkins, who has emerged as the Eagles' most vocal leader, is coming off two terrific seasons. He set career-highs last year in tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three), intercepted two passes and returned one 99 yards for a touchdown. He graded out as the best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. 

McLeod ranked 10th, eight spots ahead of Walter Thurmond, Jenkins' partner last season.

"I think we all believe that," Jenkins said when asked about the safety duo's chances of being one of the NFL's best. "The way that practice has been going so far and just what Rodney adds to the secondary, I think we're real excited about that tandem and what we'll be able to do. Both of us are very versatile, both of us know the defense and can get guys lined up and can problem-solve. All the rest of it we can do, but when you have guys that can quarterback the defense and problem-solve, it gets you out of a lot of bad looks."

Jenkins had watched McLeod on tape so he knew the type of player the Eagles were adding. What stood out most to him was how "violent" McLeod played in St. Louis, how he played much bigger than his 5-10/195-pound frame. But what's impressed Jenkins most in OTAs with McLeod is how he sees the field and reads situations. Those instincts are what Jenkins thinks can make the pairing special.

"Now playing next to him, you really start to see the smarts and his football IQ, knowing different defenses, ways to adjust things, having the ability to use tools for different situations," Jenkins said of McLeod. "He's an extension of a coach on the field. Talk about a guy being able to quarterback your defense on the field, he's somebody who understands the totality of the defense and has that ability to communicate and get guys lined up. It's just good to have two guys back there now that can do that.

"I think from what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table from a football standpoint, I think our talent level can put us in that conversation (of the NFL's top safety tandems). But once we really get in tune with each other as far as calls, tools that we can use ... when you got two guys with high football IQs, you can really be special."

Jenkins and McLeod have been playing left and right safety interchangeably so far in practice. McLeod says that this voluntary workout period for the safeties has been about figuring out which of them does what better. He'll have a better idea of their specific roles once training camp comes.

Jenkins and McLeod were in constant communication on the sidelines after coming off the field for certain plays at Tuesday's practice. Jenkins was doing a lot of the talking and McLeod a lot of the listening. McLeod would explain what he saw and why he broke the way he did, and Jenkins would coach him up and advise him what to do next time they see a certain look. 

"Big competitor, man. Just from Day 1, offseason drills and things like that when we compete, even in the weight room you can just see how he gets after it," McLeod said of Jenkins. "It carries over into the field, big trash talker. He carries a swagger about him. Very smart and instinctive player.

"Me and Malcolm, I think we're gonna build something great here and you can see glimpses of it in practice now."

Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

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Tonight's lineup: After benching, Odubel Herrera back in leadoff spot

It seems like Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided pulling Odubel Herrera in the seventh inning of a tied game on Monday is enough punishment for failing to run out a ground ball.

The centerfielder will be back in his customary leadoff spot when the Phillies take on Justin Verlander and the Tigers tonight at Comerica Park (see game notes).

Much of the talk surrounding the Phillies in the last 24 hours has centered on Herrera after Mackanin yanked him from the game Monday (see story). After all, Herrera's .335 batting average leads an offense-starved team that averages just 3.24 runs per game, second-worst in the majors. Before he was pulled on Monday, Herrera was 3 for 4 with an RBI and had a 15-pitch at-bat against starter Mike Pelfrey to start the game.

Tommy Joseph will start again at first base after clobbering his second homer of the season on Monday. Despite another night of immense struggles (see story), Ryan Howard is again in the lineup as the designated hitter in the American League park.

The only change to to the lineup from Monday see Carlos Ruiz starting behind the plate to catch Jeremy Hellickson.

Star outfielder Justin Upton will sit again for Detroit as he nurses a quad injury. Mike Aviles will start in his place in left.

Both teams' lineups can be found below.

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Carlos Ruiz C
7. Cesar Hernandez 2B
8. Tyler Goedell LF
9. Peter Bourjos RF

Tigers
1. Ian Kinsler 2B
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez RF
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Cameron Maybin CF
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
8. Mike Aviles LF
9. Jose Iglesias SS 

Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

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Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

The Philadelphia 76ers haven't found themselves in a position of power much on the hardwood over the past few seasons, but when it comes to the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sixers are in the driver's seat.

As longtime NBA reporter David Aldridge put it in a column on Monday, the Sixers are one of four teams that will "run the show" on draft night. The Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Phoenix Suns are all poised for a big draft night as well.

Not only do the Sixers have the first gigantic decision of the evening but they have a handful of assets, in the form of additional picks as well as moveable players, to make another big splash on draft night (Thanks, Sam Hinkie).

The first debate in Philly will clearly be Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Once that decision is made though, things could still be very interesting for Bryan Colangelo.

Aldridge goes on to discuss the logjam in the Sixers frontcourt that Sixers' observers have been talking about forever, but he also adds that, "There is strong support within the organization for Nerlens Noel, who provides defense and rebounding that none of Philly's other bigs provide."

Not only does Aldridge state that there is strong support for Noel, he also says that the team would like to get back up into the early portion of the draft.

Yet the Sixers already have Okafor at the four, and possibly Saric next year. Taking Simmons wouldn't make sense unless they were determined to trade Okafor, whose up and down rookie season hasn't adversely affected his value around the league. And trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick, which the Sixers covet.

Coveting another high first-round pick and actually obtaining it are clearly different things. Unless the front office finds a way to put a package together involving the 24th or 26th picks this year and some sort of future considerations, the player who can certainly get you back near the front of this year's draft is clearly Jahlil Okafor.

The Sixers fan base is mixed on the idea of trading Jahlil Okafor. Boston seems like an obvious fit with their No. 3 overall pick being the prized target.

June 23rd will be a very interesting night to see how Bryan Colangelo, his father, Josh Harris, and his co-owners feel about such a deal.