The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

The Two-Year Plan: Andy Reid's Game of Risk

A local columnist, somebody who covers the team regularly, once confided to me his belief that Andy Reid is here for as long as he wants, sensing no dissatisfaction in the coach's performance within the organization. The admission was surprising in that it mirrored the laments of many fans who find it increasingly difficult to envision the day when a head coaching change will be made.

Reid's most recent contract extension runs through 2013, so he certainly isn't in danger of being fired and replaced by, say, Jon Gruden, or anything outlandish like that in the immediate future. However, his job security is constantly open to outside scrutiny, and if we were to speculate when his contract might be up for renewal again, one would surmise it's before he reaches the final year on the current deal.

Except there is no certainty he will receive another, or even last that long.

Not now, not after consecutive first round playoff exits. His first two extensions came in '00 and '04, when the Eagles were clearly ascending as an NFL powerhouse. The most recent lengthening came in '09, on the heels of the Eagles' fifth conference championship appearance under Reid, and in the midst of an 11-win season. Like it or not, the organization could justify the decisions then.

It's highly irregular for an NFL head coach to enter a season as a "lame duck," even moreso when you're talking about the most tenured guy in the league. Essentially it leaves Reid with the next two seasons to make an impression on the higher-ups, unless you believe the franchise views their coach as infallable.

What's different this time is the way the table is set. Apart from the sheer length of time the Eagles have given Reid to complete his primary task, and some circumstances largely out of the coach's control, he already has or soon will make a series of decisions that could easily lead to the fall of the Eagles. Most prevelant is the quarterback situation, which by itself could make or break the head coach's reign.

Most observers see Mike Vick as the obvious choice to lead this team. Kevin Kolb is still sort of an unknown quantity. Vick is one of the most dynamic players in the league, able to flick the ball 70-yards downfield with ease, or maneuver past defenders as if they were standing still. Plus, he's a marketing machine. The Eagles will rake with this guy.

But it's not that easy. Vick is all of those things, but he's also going to be 31-years-old—fine for a conventional pocket passer, but worrisome for a smallish runner. There's also the fact that Vick has yet to prove he is consistent enough to win three or four consecutive games in the post-season, which is significant at his age. Look no further than 7-9-22, or the number of interceptions, fumbles, and sacks he accumulated over his last seven games this season.

Which of course is not to say he can't win. This would be the first season with the Eagles where Vick entered as the starting quarterback. He'll have the full attention of the coaching staff and put in work with the first stringers. Vick already proved he has, and therefore can continue to improve.

There is an inherent risk no matter which direction they go, but it will ultimately fall on Reid. If the Eagles are still spinning their wheels with Vick two seasons from now, and Kolb goes on to begin a promising career elsewhere, it will be hard to reconcile with the front office.

That's just the beginning. Andy can maybe be forgiven for choosing the wrong quarterback when both are very talented. Tabbing an offensive line coach as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, particularly somebody who hasn't coached on that side of the ball in 20 years, will be a little harder to explain when it doesn't pan out.

What's so strange about Juan Castillo's promotion is how tenuous the situation is on defense. There isn't any one fault with this unit. The entire group requires something between a tune-up and an overhaul. The abundance of young players enterting their second seasons as professionals need a coach who will figure out what they do best and be able to utilize them in that capacity.

Obviously we haven't got the faintest clue whether or not Castillo can do those things, but it invites the head man to increased criticism. Many felt Sean McDermott's firing was in part due to his lack of experience, yet he was replaced by somebody with none. Castillo suddenly is the person charged with shaping and molding young players, putting a system in place, oh and he better do it soon, because the offense is ready to win now.

As if Reid didn't have enough issues to sort out internally, this tiny disagreement between players and owners only complicates matters. If a lockout steals the off-season, the Eagles will feel the negative consequences in more ways than one. The time to spend a full spring and summer focusing on coaching up Vick? Gone. The opportunity to teach new techniques and install new schemes on defense? Wasted.

Forget about improving the personnel, too. Some speak as if free agency would be bypassed entirely after an extended lockout. Even if it's not, good luck indoctrinating signees into a new system in time for the regular season when they only came aboard in August. Don't worry about the quarterback situation, either. It's not like they will be able to trade Kolb or Vick for picks this season.

What do you think the Eagles are going to be in the next two seasons, while labor strife limits their ability to improve the roster, a total newbie calls the defense, and a quarterback whose ceiling is unknown takes snaps from center? There really are only three options.

The first is the Eagles do what they frequently seem to do: answer doubts and become contenders. You can see how, with just a few minor tweaks—a cornerback here, a right tackle there—and the development of their own young players, they could jump into back into the mix of elites.

The second is the quarterback and defensive coordinator situations completely backfire, and management is left with zero choice but to start over. Is it such a stretch to believe those moves could result in the spawning of the post-appocalyptic Birds?

The third is the Eagles continue winning between eight and 10 games per season, just enough to sneak into the playoffs most of the time, but not enough to ever do any real damage.

Most people will probably go on believing the third scenario would be enough for Andy to earn an extension, despite any assurances to the contrary. After what would amount to four straight seasons running in place, and 14 without winning the ultimate prize, it might be time to finally rethink that position. We will know within the next two years whether Reid's gambles paid off, and if they haven't, you can bet it will cost him his job.

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

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Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”