Philadelphia Eagles

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Rob's Rants: Rhys Hoskins, Vinny Curry, solar eclipse and more

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Why wait?
“It’s about damn time.” — LeBron James

Watching Rhys Hoskins hit five home runs in seven games on the Phillies’ recent West Coast trip left me torn. 

On one hand, it’s clear he has a very bright future. His power stroke’s looked every bit as good as it did the last two years in the minors, where he hit a combined 67 long balls. Not to mention, he’s also carried over his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio in his short sampling of major-league pitching.

However, I’m also left asking the question of what took so long? Not only why it took until Aug. 10 for him to reach the big leagues, but also why wasn’t he used in left until his last week with the IronPigs? He’s a 24-year-old college player who had accomplished all he could in the minors. He should have been a Phillie sooner.

Tommy Joseph is in the midst of a freefall. Even before his slump, his numbers were just decent. Far from special. 

Hoskins’ promotion was abetted by Aaron Altherr’s injury. Still, prior to Altherr missing time, you could have gotten Hoskins enough starts between first and the outfield to make it worth having him up in the big leagues. 

Also, now that J.P. Crawford is playing some third at Lehigh Valley, it makes you wonder why he, Hoskins and Scott Kingery for that matter, didn’t get work at other positions much sooner.

Curry up, Vinny
Vinny Curry’s 2017 preseason thus far has mirrored his 2016 regular season. In other words, he’s been a ghost.  

Zero tackles, zero sacks, zero impact. 

The 29-year-old signed a five-year, $47 million deal, $23 million of which was guaranteed prior to the 2016 season. 

Curry had just 2½ sacks and 26 tackles last year. The previous season, he had 3½ sacks and 12 tackles. He played in all 32 games those seasons. 

Curry’s deal could go down as one of the worst — if not the worst — in team history. 

The excuse last year was he played hurt. In 2015, he was playing in a 3-4 scheme that did not fit his skill set as a rushing end. Interestingly, Curry played in the same Billy Davis-led defense in 2014 and totaled nine sacks.

Connor Barwin is now gone. Derek Barnett is a 21-year-old rookie. The job is Curry’s to lose and he’s doing his best to do so. 

Money should not be a factor in terms of playing time. Rookie or not, Barnett has far outplayed Curry and it should reflect in snaps if the veteran does not get his act together in the final two preseason games.         

In totality
If I never hear the word “totality” again, I will depart this Earth a happy man. 

If you watched or listened to any of the coverage leading up to Monday’s solar eclipse, you heard the word, ad nauseam. 

I’m guilty of existing too much in my own sports bubble and not appreciating things outside of those boundaries. So while it didn’t do much for me, I understand and appreciate the solar eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime or every-38-year thing.

However, an anchor on The Weather Channel took things to a different orbit when she was brought to tears discussing the eclipse. I wish I could have concealed my eyes and ears the way the moon obscured the sun at 2:44 p.m. when she began to get misty.     

G-O-A-T
Jack Regenye’s catch in the championship game of the Junior League World Series (ages 13-15) may be the greatest catch ever. Regenye, the centerfielder for the Kennett-Unionville squad, pulled off the rare combo of fearlessness, athleticism and timing in spectacular fashion. 

The fact that Kennett lost, 12-1, to Chinese Taipei will go down as simply a footnote. Regenye should never pay for a soda or chicken fingers again in the Kennett-Unionville area.   

Wendell Smallwood ready for his 'chance to take it' in Eagles' next preseason game

Wendell Smallwood ready for his 'chance to take it' in Eagles' next preseason game

Don't give that fourth running back spot to Corey Clement just yet.

Wendell Smallwood isn't going to go down quietly.

Smallwood, the Eagles' second-year running back from West Virginia, is back practicing with no restrictions after missing nearly two weeks with a hamstring injury.

Smallwood has yet to play in a preseason game, and with undrafted rookie Clement acquitting himself well both at practice and in the first couple preseason games, the pressure is on Smallwood to produce soon to secure a roster spot.

“It was real frustrating," Smallwood said after practice Monday. "Just missing those reps, missing two straight preseason games, not being able to get better. You get better with those game reps and those practice reps, so I think I need to start taking advantage of every one I have."

Smallwood got hurt two weeks ago Monday, and although he returned on a limited basis last week, Monday's practice with the Dolphins was his first with no restrictions since he got hurt.

He looked good. He looked fast and physical. And he said he finally feels 100 percent.

“I think so," he said. "I feel good. Today I forgot about it. Wasn’t even thinking about the injury. Didn’t think twice about cuts, running, bursting, anything like that. I think I got it back.

"It’s a huge relief just because last week practicing I could sense that it was still there and I was still kind of thinking about it, and the coaches could sense it, so being this week, I’m full go, it’s not bothering me. You could see I got some of my burst back. I’m good."

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday that Smallwood is more of an every-down back than he first realized.

"You know, I think Wendell is a true three-down back," he said. "When we first drafted him, I kind of looked at him as more like a first- and second-down back. I thought he would be OK on third down, but really he's turned out to be better on third down than I thought.

"So really I think he is a very versatile back who knows protections very well, who runs good routes, who catches the ball well. And then I think he's a slashing runner on first and second down, so we like that combination. He's done very well. He works very hard at it. Love him mentally, and really glad he's in the mix."

Smallwood played well early last year before he admittedly got out of shape, hurt his knee and wound up on injured reserve.

He ran for 79 yards against the Steelers and 70 against the Falcons — the Eagles' two biggest wins of the year — before fading later in the season.

He said learning how to work through an injury is an important lesson for a young NFL player.

"I’m definitely more equipped in my second year getting hurt than my first year because I dealt with it differently," he said. "I let it get to me a lot and kind of shied away from the game, but this year I got more into the game.

“It was frustrating, but I stayed into the game plan, stayed in my playbook, [and] I didn’t let it get to me. I stayed dialed in. It was frustrating to me, but I know what I can do and I know what I’m capable of. I’m right back out here and I’m ready to go, and I’m full go."

Much has been made of the Eagles' struggles running the ball this preseason.

LeGarrette Blount is averaging 1.9 yards on nine carries, rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey has two yards on seven carries, Clement and Byron Marshall are both averaging under 4.0 yards per carry, and Darren Sproles and Smallwood haven't gotten any carries.

As a group, the Eagles' running backs are averaging 2.4 yards per carry.

The Eagles finish the preseason against the Dolphins at the Linc Thursday — the first offense is expected to play into the third quarter — and at the Meadowlands against the Jets, when most starters won't paly.

Smallwood knows people are already questioning the Eagles' running game.

“We sense it, we hear it, but like Doug (Pederson) said, we’re not going to overreact, we’re not going to underreact," he said. "It’s preseason, we’re going to get better at it, we know what we’re capable of doing. We’re not going to let it get to us that much.

“This game is going to be the one where we dial up the run and show how we can run the ball."

And it needs to be the game that Smallwood does the same thing.

“I’m definitely very hungry," he said. "I missed a lot of reps and missed a lot of game reps that could have made me better. So this is my chance to take it and go full throttle.

“It’s the game, man. It’s my welcome home party. I’m back on the field, going to go out there, I'm going to get some plays, I’m going to get some runs, going to get some passes. It’s real important for me."

Smallwood finished last year with a 4.1 rushing average, becoming only the fourth Eagles rookie running back to rush for 300 yards with an average of 4.0 or more in the last 35 years (also Correll Buckhalter, LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown).

And he felt before the injury he had come a long way from his rookie year.

“I definitely think I took that step," he said. "From last year to this year, I took that leap that I needed, and I think just my running, I was more dialed in, my shoulder pads were getting low, I was running through people instead of trying to run around. I wasn’t thinking so much. I was just playing with confidence.

"Now I’ve just got to do it Thursday night — and every day we’re out here at practice."

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

The Eagles blitzed early and often during their second exhibition game against the Bills last week, and unlike much of what we see in preseason, it actually could be a sign of what’s to come.

No NFL defense used a standard four-man pass rush with greater frequency than the Eagles in 2016 at 79.3 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders Almanac. (Conversely, the team that rushed four the fewest was the Jets at 49.2 percent.) This has long been the philosophy of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who prefers to generate pressure from the front four without drawing on help from linebackers and defensive backs.

Schwartz also may have been more hesitant to blitz than usual last season out of fear a weak secondary would not be able to hold up in coverage. Now that the Eagles acquired cornerback Ronald Darby in a trade, the defense may have the freedom to send additional pressure.

“A lot of times, your blitz really depends on how well your corners are going,” Schwartz said Monday after practice (see 10 observations). “The more help you're getting in the corners, obviously, the less guys that you can use to blitz, so they certainly both go hand in hand.”

The Bills game almost certainly does not represent a fundamental shift in Schwartz’s strategy. The Eagles are not expected to go from blitzing the least in the league to sending extra rushers on every other play.

It’s only preseason — a time when coaches are evaluating everything.

“We didn't scheme up, we used more of our scheme,” Schwartz said. “Everything that we ran in that game, we had run 50 times in training camp. It was all sort of base stuff, but there were some different things we were looking at.”

So nothing to see here, right? Maybe, but if nothing else, this goes to show Schwartz is working from a larger playbook than it might have seemed in '16, when the Eagles rigidly sent four rushers down after down.

Having a potential shutdown cornerback in Darby, or at least a competent tandem along with Jalen Mills, could provide the Eagles' defense with the flexibility it sorely lacked last season. It may merely be a matter of getting Darby up to speed in the system, considering his arrival was less than two weeks ago.

“He's pretty close,” Schwartz said. “There are some situations that don't come up very often where he's still maybe a step slow when a safety makes a call, but everything is installed.

“He has it. It's just a matter of repping it enough times that he feels comfortable with it, and we're still a work in progress there.”

Darby impressed in his Eagles debut last Thursday, recording one interception and letting another go through his fingertips (see story). However, the third-year defensive back is coming off of a down season in Buffalo, so it’s not necessarily a given he’ll continue producing at a high level.

In order for Schwartz to feel comfortable with getting creative, Darby must continue to demonstrate not only his individual ability, but that he’s also able to work in concert with the rest of the secondary.

“There is something with a corner and safety communication,” Schwartz said. “The safety is making calls, there’s a lot of moving parts — motion can change a technique the corner makes, and anticipating that motion, and sort of being one step ahead — so it certainly would help a corner to have that.”

Since his arrival, Darby has already changed the complexion of the defense, putting another playmaker in the secondary. The Eagles are making some tweaks to his technique — he’s working with legendary safety Brian Dawkins, and catching balls from the JUGS machine in the hopes of converting more pass breakups into picks.

And if Darby turns out to be everything the Eagles hope, he may even allow the Eagles' defense to get after the quarterback a bit more.