Vick Leaves Early (Again), Foles Plays the Hero (Again) But Has the Depth Chart Changed?

Vick Leaves Early (Again), Foles Plays the Hero (Again) But Has the Depth Chart Changed?

In many ways, Monday night's preseason football game was eerily similar to the one the Eagles played against the Steelers a week and a half ago -- only this was far, far worse. With any and all of their relevant starters on the bench, the New England Patriots somehow jumped out to an 11-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Eagles defense had trouble getting off the field, and Michael Vick once again was hurt early with an apparent injury to his ribs, the same type of injury that caused him to miss games in each of the past two seasons.
But hey, don't sweat it. Rookie/savior Nick Foles entered the game in his place and proceeded to lead three touchdown drives, in the process helping the Birds to a 27-17 victory. Things are totally all right. In fact, we can probably just forget about Foles making a play as the number two quarterback. Andy Reid should name him the starter effective immediately. /eye roll
Although Foles' faster-than-anticipated ascendency is saving what would otherwise be a torturous preseason to date—and we the football-starved people appreciate that—it comes with a few grains of salt. 
To begin, while Foles' was again impressive last night, his first couple of scoring drives were aided by a pair of turnovers. Fellow rookie Brandon Boykin forced a fumble working as a gunner on the punt coverage team, flying up the sideline and landing a shot on the returner as the ball arrived. From there, the Eagles were able to go 24 yards on three runs for the score. A couple plays later, a Philip Hunt strip-sack gave the Birds the ball on New England's 12, setting up Foles for a two-play march and TD pass. Great news for folks interested in seeing how the offense looked near the goal line. 
Later, with most of the Eagles' first stringers still in the game, Foles led an eight-play, 80 yard scoring drive against the Patriots' third string defense to open the third quarter. Take that, Vick!
Don't get me wrong, like anybody else, I am impressed with the rookie quarterback. His performances have been fun to watch during what has been an otherwise vastly disappointing preseason. He's shown a ton of poise and promise, especially in extended action following Vick's injury on Monday night. (Yes, Vick is supposedly okay... again… but more testing will be done.) So far, the Arizona product is 24/36 for 361 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick.
That said, we probably all need a friendly reminder that Foles' accomplishments have come when he has staring solely down the barrel of second- and third-string defenses during a time of year when opponents aren't exactly throwing the types of fastballs that typically make young quarterbacks flinch. For a third-round pick, it's fair to say Foles has exceeded expectations at this early juncture in his career, and if he winds up being the starter in Cleveland this Friday for exhibition number three, he may just have a shot at slipping into the primary backup spot behind Vick with another strong outing.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves though. Mike Kafka's last preseason was not so bad either -- granted not quite this good – but he is quickly being written off amidst the combination of an injury and the guy behind him on the depth chart playing better than expected. Kafka seemingly demonstrated he was a gamer last summer, going 34/49 for 368 yards (7.5 Avg) with two touchdowns and two picks in 2011, good for a passer rating of 87.8. He also very nearly led the Eagles to a comeback victory in Atlanta in Week 2 of the regular season, which holds considerably more weight than what either he or Foles has done in the preseason.
Obviously Foles has greater upside, and that's why the Eagles drafted him. But, he's a rookie, and not one being immediately groomed to start. This is year three for Kafka, and while nobody will confuse him as the QB of the future, as long as he gets healthy, I'm not so sure he isn't still the backup if Vick got hurt in... let's say Week 1. That's what Kafka's been groomed for since his arrival in Philadelphia, and as long as we're basing one's ability on preseason action, let's not forget he too has succeeded to some degree on that level, plus he's had considerably more time in the offense.
None of which is to say the job isn't up for grabs, and that Foles couldn't or shouldn't be the first name called if Vick continues to get bitten by the injury bug. We just don't know yet. Of course, there's also very little to compare Foles against in these two exhibitions -- just nine passes from Kafka, several of which apparently were after sustaining the injury that would ultimately keep him out of the Pats game. Missing snaps due to injury certainly isn't an excuse that will keep the backup role warm for Kafka, but for now, if we're being realistic, I feel it's best to view Foles' success to date with tempered enthusiasm. If we're just looking for some enjoyment in the preseason, by all means, Foles has been a major bright spot, and that's even more encouraging in the long term. So have at it. 
The competition for backup QB is probably still up for grabs though, and the depth chart will be heavily influenced by Kafka's health between now and the start of the season, rather than just Foles' success against vanilla and/or second/third string defenses.
As for Vick, he needs to be smarter or this discussion becomes a lot more than a wait-and-see pondering. With one of Vick's bigger question marks being his ability to stay on the field, he's done little to inspire confidence in the few preseason snaps he's taken. On the play during which he was injured in game 2, Evan Mathis did not hear Jason Kelce change the blocking assignments at the line, resulting in a free rusher with a direct line at the quarterback. Rather than scramble out of the pocket and throw it away -- or hell, this is preseason, just spike it for an intentional grounding -- Vick turned back toward the pass rush to heave a pass downfield, exposing himself to a huge hit to his ribs. Obviously much of the blame rests on the offensive line here, but sometimes the QB also needs to know when to wave to white flag.
We'll have a more detailed review of the game later.
(Photos by Mark L. Baer, US Presswire)

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum lights up Virginia, Wake Forest

We're have just a few weeks left in the college basketball regular season, so everyone is looking for a big win. Or in the case of a top prospect, a big performance to show all the scouts.

Let's take a look at whose stock rose and whose fell this week among eight top freshmen.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
America is finally seeing the Jayson Tatum that was highly touted coming into his one-and-done stint with the Blue Devils. The move to power forward has ignited his game and helped catapult Duke in its seven-game winning streak. His line Saturday against Wake Forest — 19 points on 6 for 11 shooting, 3 of 5 from three, and seven rebounds — was pretty good and he made some clutch free throws to clinch the win.

But can we talk about his Virginia game? Seriously, this may be the gem of his college career. Tatum's Blue Devils were held to just 21 points (he had seven of those) by Virginia's stingy defense in the first half. So what does he do? Score 21 by himself in the second half to lead the Blue Devils past a top-15 team. He had 28 points on just 13 shots, making 6 of 7 from three while adding eight rebounds, a block and a steal. He had a 7-0 run by his lonesome that put Duke up for good. He's likely a three at the next level, but Tatum displayed all the tools to be an effective three while dominated at the four, a much-needed boost for the soon-to-be top-10 Blue Devils.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The three-point shooting slump isn't quite done yet for the Finnish freshman, but at least he's found his scoring touch again. Markkanen had a pair of double-doubles in Wildcat wins this week over Washington St. and Washington, all while only making 1 of 6 from beyond the arc. He's now just 4 for 19 from three in his last five games, a slightly worrying stretch that has brought his three-point percentage down to 46.5 percent.

Still though, he didn't fail to produce in 68 minutes combined over a three-day span. First, he had 19 points and 11 rebounds vs. Washington St. in a 78-59 win, his first double-figure rebounding effort since his last game vs. the Cougars. He then came through with 26 points and 13 rebounds against Washington in a 76-68 win. He was able to hit some jumpers but also competed inside, making his way to the free-throw line nine times and making eight from the stripe. It's certainly encouraging after some lackluster showings over the last two weeks.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
After missing two games last week with a knee injury, Fultz came back fully healthy with a pair of nearly identical performances. On Thursday, the impressive freshman shot 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, and had 19 points to go with four assists during an 83-81 loss to Arizona State. Two days later, he shot, get this, 7 for 16 from the field, 2 of 6 from three, in the loss to Arizona. He did make to the charity stripe more often (make 10 of 15 from the free-throw line) and finished with 26 points and six assists.

In the defeat, Fultz still played 38 minutes and scored or assisted on over 55 percent of the Huskies' points. Sure, he had four turnovers, but when you have the ball in your hand as often as he does, it's bound to happen. It's a pretty good idea of what he'll be doing for a team that finds itself at the top of the lottery this year. He showed off every part of skill set — shooting, getting the rim, finishing, etc. — Saturday and nearly led the 9-18 Huskies to a win over the No. 5 team in the country.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
Most players don't dominate a game while taking the fewest shots among his team's starters. Most players aren't Lonzo Ball. Ball messed around with a triple-double while taking just nine points Saturday night, coming up just short with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Bruins, who beat USC, 102-70.

Three teammates scored more points than Ball, but that's in part thanks to how well he spreads the ball and runs the offense. His maturity doesn't just come on offense. He's also solid on the defensive end, in part thanks to his 6-6 frame at point guard.

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Kentucky's catalyst keyed the Wildcats to two more wins this week as they extended their win streak to four. Monk was his normal volume shooting self in the two games against Tennessee and Georgia. He took a total of 31 shots, up from 30 over two games the week before. While he made just 10 of the 31 attempts, the formula seems to be working because the Wildcats keep winning.

He had 20 points with four threes and eight rebounds in a blowout win over Tennessee. The more impressive effort came with worse stats in the road victory against Georgia. He made just 3 of 11 but got to the free-throw line for 11 attempts and got it done for Kentucky in other ways, notably five assists and three steals. Monk has been labeled an offense-only guard, so the trio of steals are a welcome sight. How he'll defend ones and twos at the next level will be a real defining challenge for him.

Quick Hits
• Florida State lost consecutive games and forward Jonathan Isaac was relatively quiet, scoring 15 points on 14 shots over the two games. He had just three free throw attempts yet still reeled in 12 rebounds and had four blocks.

• Kansas' Josh Jackson provided 16 points on 14 shots Saturday, as the No. 3 Jayhawks defeated No. 4 Baylor. Jackson, by making his only attempt vs. the Bears, is up to 35.3 percent from three.

• NC State fired its coach this week, but that didn't stop Dennis Smith Jr. from being his normal self. In a pair of losses to ranked teams, Smith had 43 points, nine assists and seven rebounds combined.

Now a country music artist, ex-Phillie Brett Myers hopes to play in Philly

Now a country music artist, ex-Phillie Brett Myers hopes to play in Philly

Much like he was on the mound, Brett Myers is giving everything he has to create a name for himself in the music industry. And he is doing it by being his "own man." 

Unlike the mainstream pop-country that appears in your head when you think of the genre, Myers has set out to be different. When asked about the country music of today, Myers does not agree with the direction it is going. His first album, "Backwoods Rebel," describes the former Phillies’ starter and his music accurately — rebellious and unconventional. Myers’ music is country with a twist of rock but holds back from the mainstream pop country of today. 

“They kill it, don’t get me wrong,” Myers said this week in a phone interview with CSNPhilly.com. “But it’s not my cup of tea. Every song is about a girl and sitting on a tailgate. I think it is pop country that is out now. Country music is about songwriting and storytelling. I see these guys like Luke Bryan singing these songs, and I see they have six guys write the song. I mean, does it really take six guys to write a song? That frustrates me because I am a singer and songwriter. I live in this world. I don’t live in their fairytale world that they are singing about. 

"I think a lot of people want to listen to their music because it takes them away from their everyday life. But I want to write about everyday life stuff. I can only write about what I know and what I’ve seen. I don’t feel like this country music stuff we listen to today really grasps real-life stuff like country music is supposed to be.” 

For the last two years Myers has dedicated himself to this craft and produced two albums — he is working on his third. At first, it was strictly writing and no singing. The former pitcher was convinced to sing and now has the itch to play in front of live audiences.  

The end goal: get back to the City of Brotherly Love. 

“My main priority this year is to play a couple shows in Philly,” Myers said. “That’s all I want to do is play a show at the Fillmore or one of those venues they have in Philly. I know half the people there would come to watch me suck. And the other half would come to see me (do well). That’s the way Philly is and I am perfectly OK with it. I would enjoy it.”

The misconception with Myers’ post-retirement career is most people do not see it as a serious endeavor. He wants to clear the air. Myers is as serious as it can be when it comes to his music, but he still hasn't had the chance to play in a big venue in Philadelphia. 

He has played a few shows in Florida — his home state — but knows Philadelphia is his best chance to validate his music career. 

“The two shows we’ve done, I can tell you we don’t suck,” Myers said. “I got two guys from ‘Puddle of Mudd’ in the band. An original member from ‘Shinedown’ in the band. These guys have platinum records on their walls. And I think to myself, 'Why would they be a part of this if they thought it sucked?'"

He does not want a promotional team behind him; instead, he wants to go against the grain and make it in the industry on his own. 

“Twitter, Instagram, try to do some podcasts here and there,” Myers said. “My buddies have a syndicated radio show that I go on and put my music on. A couple people in Philly have written articles about when I first came out with my album. Good or bad.

“With the second album, I didn’t get the same publicity as the first because it wasn’t a shock. So not many people know it’s been out since August. I am working on the third one now, but this is why I need to play live (for more publicity).”

As he did with baseball, Myers doesn’t do this because he wants to make money. He loves it.

“I’m not going to do it if doesn’t make sense," he said. "Because I’m doing it for nothing. I’m putting my own money into this thing, but my band is not going to play for free. If I can make enough money to pay them and pay for our expenses. I don’t care if I make a dollar out of this.

“I want to create my own genre. Meaning I am southern rock and country, that’s how I classify my music. I don’t just say, 'Yeah I’m a country music artist’ or whatever. Because I know I am not mainstream country. That’s what people think country is right now, pop country. I don’t offer that and I never will. I don’t believe in selling out to make a dollar. I’m writing this for me and people who want to enjoy it.”

Country music and his children have his full attention these days, which makes it is hard for Myers to keep up with his old team. He did offer some words about the front office dealing with the young players and how there is always a chance the Phillies could surprise people in this season. 

“Honestly I don't know what their clubhouse personalities are so I really couldn't tell you if they have the same similarities," he said. "But you know, we were that young team coming up. It took us a while to figure it out, but Pat Gillick and his team put together a great group of personalities with a good mixture of young talent and veterans.

“I wish them the best, but you never know what the season has in store for anyone. Teams look good on paper then can't perform on the field. That's what makes baseball so great you never know what's going to happen. It's just so unpredictable.”