Wheres the Love for Brian Billick?

Wheres the Love for Brian Billick?

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You can hardly mention the Eagles or open up a local sports
section these days without the name Jon Gruden popping up somewhere. The
reverend Bill Cowher would instantly climb to the top of any head coaching wish
list if he could ever quit being so indecisive about his willingness to get
back on the sidelines. Heck, Lovie Smith is a popular choice, and his teams
only made the playoffs three out of nine years – and he doesn’t even have a
ring!

Yet for whatever reason, Brian Billick enters the
conversation, and many fans act like he’s not even in the same league as these
other coaches. We are talking about a Super Bowl-winning head coach here. Why
so much mystique surrounding Gruden and Cowher, but so little enthusiasm for
Billick?

Are they not all members of the same club, especially
considering their three championships came just six years apart? The answer
obviously is yes, and the circumstances under which Billick won his are
arguably the most impressive.

For starters, he got it done in his second season as a head
coach. It took Cowher 14 years to win the big one, and Gruden was already on to
his second team – a ready-made contender he inherited from Tony Dungy by the
way. Billick also did something that is almost unthinkable in this era, winning
not only without a franchise quarterback, but without so much as competent quarterback
play at all as long as we’re being blunt thanks in large part to their
legendary defense.

Though that probably works as the biggest indictment of
Billick as well.

He arrived in Baltimore with a reputation for offense having
previously served as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota. The Vikings had
just set a then-NFL record for points scored in a season with a 35-year-old
Randall Cunningham under center.

That success did not follow Billick to the Ravens, at least
in part because he didn’t have a pair of Hall-of-Fame-caliber wide receivers in
Cris Carter and Randy Moss. The biggest reason however was the franchise’s
failure to develop a quarterback, jumping from Tony Banks to Dilfer, then
signing Elvis Grbac the same offseason they won the Super Bowl, followed one
year later by Chris Redman, before finally wasting a first-round pick on Kyle
Boller next April.

Not surprisingly, Billick couldn’t continue winning hardware
with slop at the most important position on the field. The one year the Ravens
finally did land a quality passer that managed to stay healthy – Steve McNair
in 2006 – they went 13-3 and earned a first-round bye in the tournament.

The obvious drawback is Billick has demonstrated little
ability to develop a quarterback at the pro level – though Gruden’s QB at Tampa
Bay was Brad Johnson, who got his start with Minnesota. Anybody can see how
that might be worrisome to anybody hopeful the Eagles can groom Nick Foles to
lead the franchise for the foreseeable future.

But what have Gruden or Cowher done that is so much better?
Is it because of their personalities? In Gruden’s case, is it his ties to the
Eagles in the past? What is it exactly that sets them apart? Because in terms of rings
on fingers, neither of them has one-upped Billick yet.

There’s something to be said for bringing in one of the
bright young minds from around the league, but as far as retreads go, Billick
is every bit as qualified as those other broadcasters. Somehow if he were to get hired as the next head coach of the Eagles however, I get the feeling the general public would not be nearly as satisfied.

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Will Keegan Rosenberry's benching sprak second-year Union defender?

Will Keegan Rosenberry's benching sprak second-year Union defender?

CHESTER, Pa. — Over the years, there have been few certainties for the Union, a franchise often in flux. But since the start of the 2016 season, there was at least one: Keegan Rosenberry.

The right back played every minute of his rookie season last year — the only player in MLS to do so — while earning spots in the MLS All-Star game and last January’s U.S. national team camp. And through the first six games of 2017, he once again never came off the field.

But with the team sputtering and Rosenberry not playing as well as he did as a rookie, Union head coach Jim Curtin benched last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year finalist for this past Saturday’s game vs. Montreal.

The Union defense didn’t get any better, giving up three unanswered goals in a brutal 3-3 draw with the Impact. But Curtin hopes the benching could be the spark Rosenberry needs to return to form and regain his place in the starting lineup, possibly for this Saturday’s road tilt against the star-studded LA Galaxy (10:30 p.m., TCN).

“Keegan is obviously a great player for us — a guy who played a ton of minutes, a guy who had never missed a minute since he’s been here,” Curtin said. “I thought it was important for him. He’s been a little caught in two minds between the attack and defending, and maybe lacking a little bit of confidence. At the same time, he was giving maximum effort.

“I had a talk with him. It’s a hard decision but I decided in some instances it’s good … to sit back and watch. That sounds like a coach talking, but I have been in those moments and you’re disappointed as a player to watch, but it also can re-light a little bit of a fire.”

It helps, too, when the replacement is Ray Gaddis, the club’s second longest-tenured player and someone with over 100 MLS starts to his name. And even though he was relegated to a reserve role last year after being a starter for the three seasons before that, Gaddis is never someone who needs to be reminded to stay ready.

“We have a saying in our family, ‘You stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Gaddis said. “It’s not that hard when you have good teammates. It’s a testament to them. They’re pushing me every week in training, and I approach every practice session like it’s a game.”

Considering the Union allowed three goals last weekend, no defender received many plaudits after the game. But none of the goals were really the fault of Gaddis, who showed the same kind of speed and defensive ability that has made him a successful MLS player.

“Ray had a good game,” Curtin said. “Ray did a really good job in his defending, gave us some really good 1 v. 1 defending winning his duels. It’s not easy for a guy who’s been out and has not played 90 in a while to go through the physicality of that. But he emptied his tank, gave everything for the shirt, which he always does. I think he’s one of the best 1 v. 1 defenders that our league has.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of Philly’s backline setup was that Gaddis played alongside rookie Jack Elliott, marking the second time in MLS history that two West Virginia University alums started the same match. That was a cool thing for Gaddis, who’s tried to help bring Elliott up to speed after the London-born center back was taken in the fourth round of this year’s draft.

“He’s a humble kid like myself, and that’s what I like about him,” Gaddis said. “He plays hard and that’s what our university produces — hard workers.

“I’m a team-first guy,” he added. “I’m looking at my teammates. They’re looking at me and I’ve been here a while. They’re looking for a push. They’re looking for some cohesion in the back to bring us together. And i feel like I’ve been here a while, so [I can] be a leader on and off the field.”

While Gaddis is certainly an important contributor to this team, he may not stay in the starting lineup for long. Rosenberry remains one of the team’s brightest young stars and may get his job back this weekend vs. the Galaxy — a team he scored his first MLS goal on in last season’s matchup.

“If we’re going to get out of this thing — and Keegan and I have talked about it — he’s going to be a big part of us fighting our way out of it,” Curtin said. “He’s still an important player for us, a very good outside back in this league. And right now, we’re trying to find the right pieces of the puzzle to get that first win.”

Kulp’s one-and-only Eagles 2017 seven-round NFL mock draft

Kulp’s one-and-only Eagles 2017 seven-round NFL mock draft

This Eagles mock draft -- like every mock draft -- is inaccurate and strictly for entertainment purposes only.

For the past 24 hours, I debated releasing a mock draft altogether, even though I had been working on one for several days. It’s a senseless exercise to begin with, as the odds of being right about any of these choices is slim. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the probability is lower than ever.

We’re just hours away from the draft, and we’re still not sure who’s going to the Cleveland Browns with the first overall pick. There’s also little consensus on how to rank the prospects beyond Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, and by the time the Eagles are on the clock at No. 14, it’s anybody’s guess where these players will go.

Adding to the mystery are a collection of potential top-15 talents who are next to impossible to rank due to character concerns or injuries. Ohio State’s Gareon Conley, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Washington’s Sidney Jones or Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon all could’ve been options for the Eagles at 14 in alternate universe, and two or three still are -- now, who knows?

Those could be some of the options, as are Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Central Michigan’s Corey Davis, Alabama’s O.J. Howard, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Washington’s John Ross and LSU’s Tra’Davious White, to name a few. Frankly, we don’t even know when the run on quarterbacks will begin, which could drastically alter how the board looks when it’s the Eagles’ turn.

Even as we get into the later rounds, where there seems to be a tad more consensus in the rankings, there are some 300-plus prospects to choose from altogether. The Eagles currently have eight picks, which gives me roughly a 2.5 percent chance of nailing just one, presuming they don’t trade some away.

So long story short, don’t expect me to get this right. I certainly don’t, and anybody who tells who differently is kidding themselves -- this year more than most.

14. Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU

White isn’t necessarily graded as the best player or even cornerback available at this point, but that might be an oversight. Not many defensive prospects come along with four years starting experience at an SEC program, plus return punts, too. Don’t take my word for it, though. This is Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas talking about White at the Senior Bowl, via Turron Davenport for USA Today:

“He’s a leader. He’s been ultra-productive. He’s tough as nails. He plays nickel, he plays outside, he has ball skills. You can stack his level of production up against any corner in this draft.”

There is a chance the Eagles could land White or a similarly graded corner in round two, but I don’t think he lasts that long or they find a better fit. This fills a need, does so with somebody the Eagles are comfortable with, and a case could be made White is the best defensive player available here, rankings be damned. There’s probably 10 different directions they could go here — including a trade down — but either way, this choice makes a lot of sense.

43. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

No, I’m not willing to bet $500 on it, but I do buy into the buzz that Foster is sliding as the draft approaches. He may be a top-10 talent on the football field and hands down the best linebacker in the draft, but there is a host of other issues teams should be worried about.

That being said, the Eagles recently sent somebody to Tuscaloosa to see Foster, so their interest seems legitimate. The Baltimore Ravens had a history of drafting linebackers and Alabama products while Douglas was a member of the front office as well. Every year, at least one prospect falls much farther than expected. If Foster somehow lasts this long, he’ll be well worth the risk for the Eagles.

99. Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

Hunt rushed for 4,945 yards — 25th in FBS history — and 44 touchdowns in four seasons for the Rockets, but it was the strides he made as a receiver out of the backfield his senior year that should make him attractive to the Eagles. With 41 receptions for 403 yards and a touchdown in 2016, Hunt showed the kind of dual-threat ability vital to coach Doug Pederson’s West Coast offense.

118. Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic

Hendrickson recorded 30.0 tackles for loss and 23.0 sacks over his junior and senior seasons. No, it wasn’t again top competition, but timed at 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, he has the speed defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is looking for off the edge.

138. Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia

Gibson was supposed to run one of the fastest 40-yard dashes at the NFL Scouting Combine. Instead, the clock started fast, and he was timed at 4.5 seconds. That may cause him to drop a round or two in the draft, but the stats tell a different tale. Gibson averaged 22.6 yards per reception in three seasons at WVU and can flat out fly. He returns kickoffs, too.

155. Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego State

Undersized at 5-foot-10 and not the greatest athlete, Kazee makes up for it with tremendous instinct and a nose for the football. Recorded 15 interceptions and three forced fumbles over his junior and senior seasons, while being aggressively natured in run support, too, racking up 8.5 tackles for loss. He’ll compete, which Schwartz loves in a corner.

194. Connor Harris, LB, Lindenwood

The NCAA All-Division record holder with 633 tackles, Harris is short at 5-foot-11 and not especially explosive, he simply knows how to play football. Had an offer from an FBS school and likely would have excelled, but was already committed to Lindenwood. Has the potential to become an outstanding special teams contributor.

230. Nate Hairston, CB, Temple

Hairston is an extremely raw prospect who is nowhere near ready to play cornerback in the NFL, but the Eagles could stash him on the practice squad for a year or two while he learns. He’s a local prospect, so what the hell, throw him on here. If I got one of these right, I’ll be popping open the champagne on Saturday night.