The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles & Phillies Prospects

This past week “SportsTalk” got to chat with some of the up-and-coming stars in both the Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies organizations.

First, the Eagles and a preliminary look at some of our interviews:


You can see more interviews on the next live edition of “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call.”

The thing that was so impressive to me about the Eagles rookies we spoke with was their focus.  We interviewed them on a day in which nearly all the Philadelphia fans’ focus was on the issue of Fletcher Cox attending “voluntary” practices—which he did on this day (there was a incredible crowd of reporters/videographers around Cox in the locker room after practice).

The players we spoke with were very determined to acclimate themselves with the speed of the NFL game and learn from the veterans about all the nuances that come with playing on the pro level.  There were no big egos…only a quiet passion to try to improve their game and their skill-set and a desire to contribute in any way they can.

Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Mack Hollins and Donnel Pumphrey all will have opportunities to contribute for the Birds this season…and all seem like they have the mental drive to be standout players for the Eagles for the foreseeable future.
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Fans of the Phillies are a little less optimistic right now based on the team’s win/loss record. However, there are still lots of reasons for hope down on their farm—especially within its current core of young outfield prospects.

(More Phillies prospects interviews available through RCN On-Demand and here on the RCN-TV website).

All three Triple-A starting outfielders—Dylan Cozens, Nick Williams and Roman Quinn—have some outstanding talent.  Cozens has bashed tremendously long home runs over the last few weeks (and was last week’s International League Player of the Week) but still strikes out quite a bit.

Williams, who had issues last season with intensity and not running hard on the bases, now hustles every time I see him.  He’s still not taking many pitches and hasn’t been as hot as some of this teammates, but he is also primarily hitting sixth in Lehigh Valley’s lineup and has not had the benefit of any consistent hitter behind him.

Quinn is such an exciting player and I think might be the first of the three outfield prospects to get a call up to the Big Leagues.  His issue in the past was staying injury-free—something he has been able to do so far in 2017.  But I don’t believe he’s been able to drive the ball with authority on a consistent basis and that might hurt him in the Majors.   Still, he’s been working on bunting and finding ways to get on base—something that would be most welcome with a Phillies lineup that has struggled overall this year.

I don’t think either the Eagles or the Phillies will be bringing home a championship banner in the next year or two.  But with exciting young players in both franchises a year or two away from potentially blossoming into superstars, it is worth fans pushing their patience level a little further in the realistic/slightly optimistic chance that much better days are almost within sight.

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft “Recap Thoughts”

As the dust beings to settle from this year’s NFL draft, a few observations on the picks by the Eagles and Redskins:

Most of these players were, in fact, available and, although I was very high on Eagles adding Foster to shore-up their linebacker core, I can’t argue with the logic of either team’s number-one selection.

      • Talking with Redskins insiders in the days leading up to the draft, they were unanimous in that Washington had multiple holes still to fill and that adding the “best available” player in each round was the way to go.  They did that, picking up a stud defensive lineman in Allen with their top pick and acquired value at several positions—all of them should benefit from the added depth.
      • Fabian Moreau was a good gamble for Washington to take with their third round pick. Unlike rounds 1 and 2 (see below), I don’t have a problem with selecting a top-tier player buoyed by injury concerns in round three.  Moreau clearly will not be available for training camp, but hopefully we can start to see his potential by the season’s second half.  With the league moving towards a more wide open/pass-happy offensive sets (and three WR looks becoming more prevalent), adding a physical corner with Moreau’s speed could be an excellent pickup for the Redskins.
      • The Eagles also had multiple options to strengthen areas of need, specifically cornerback, running back, offensive line and wide receiver. Their biggest gap was a corner—an area I thought the Birds needed to add at least three quality CBs in order to have a “successful” draft.  They responded by added one-and-a-half (Sidney Jones will probably not be available to play this fall). IF (and that’s a big IF) he returns in 2018 and plays up to his pre-injury capability, it will be a tremendous selection.  However,…
      • The Eagles still have gaping holes at corner, with their only other CB selection (and a good one at that) being Rasul Douglas. You could argue that Philadelphia will not be a realistic playoff contender this fall, so they could afford to wait a year and hope that Jones recovers completely from his Achilles tendon tear (same injury that felled Ryan Howard, btw).  But, you won’t really know how good Jones will be by this time next year, leaving the Eagles will virtually the same concerns in their secondary going into NEXT year’s draft.

Another somewhat questionable decision by the Eagles was to NOT target a bruising running back who get can you yards between the tackles.  In fact, with the Eagles decision to NOT bring a proven, short-yardage back and not adding depth along the offensive line, you may even have the same number of holes a year from now: corner, o-linemen, wide receiver (if either Alshon Jeffery and/or Torrey Smith don’t return), running back…clearly, this would be a ‘worst case scenario,’ but by gambling with your second round pick, this is a legit concern.

Now, if the Eagles are setting their sights on next year, when Penn State highly touted running back Saquon Barkley might be available…?

We’ll have more insights and analysis of this year’s NFL Drafts with NFL Beat Reporters Nick Fierro and George Wallace on this Thursday’s program, live at 7pm on RCN-TV.   Email us (rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) your thoughts on this year’s draft along with questions as teams get ready for “voluntary” workouts.
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Again, big “thanks” are in order for some of our local “AD-s” for sending us this week’s top track and field performers:

4-28-17 boys frosh
4-28-17 girls top 60
4-28-17 girls relays
4-28-17 girls frosh
4-28-17 boys top 60
4-28-17 boys relays

Colonial League Boys Week 5 Link
http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/boys/boys-track-field/

Colonial League Girls Week 5 Link
http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/girls/girls-track-field/

School administrators:  don’t forget to send us your news notes, top athletes and other special achievements to us as we continue to spotlight local student-athletes in the RCN viewing area each week.  Also, be sure to catch our local sports features on this week’s “SportsTalk” show as well!

The SportsTalk Shop: NFL Draft Thoughts/Sports Interviews

We had some great analysis and insights for this week’s NFL Draft on the most recent “RCN SportsTalk presented by The Morning Call” which you can see on RCN On-Demand or hear the podcast: rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk.

Here are a few more insights/observations that either didn’t make it to air or should be emphasized as we approach this week’s Draft:

1.  Neither the Eagles nor the Redskins should be picky: take the best available player!
Both teams have multiple holes to fill and are not any one position player away for making a major jump to becoming a Super Bowl contender. Take the best option / most talented player at the spot you pick — whether you move up or down — and find a place for him to utilize his talents!

2.  Stay away from Christian McCaffrey.
Unless you move down later into the first round he’s not going to be your best available player. Durable running backs can be found much later in the draft and NFL beat writers are mixed as far as how well McCaffrey will hold up as a between-the-tackles rusher. He’s a great talent and will be a great compliment player to a team that is already close to Super Bowl contention but neither the Redskins nor Eagles find themselves in that position right now and, although he’d be a great storyline for us in the media, avoid people that encourage picking up this Stanford back.

Our beat writers on this week’s “SportsTalk” discussed in more detail some areas that should concern fans that are going “all-in” for McCaffrey that you need to hear.

3.  Although not necessarily all flashy names, there are some outstanding talents both the Redskins and/or Eagles could pick up throughout the draft who could go a long way in helping each organization. 
Some of my top names for round one who could be available “mid-round” include:

  • LB Reuben Foster, Alabama  (although he’s MY pick, word is Arizona is heavily in on him) 

On our program, Al Thompson and Rock Hoffman also had an interesting rumor regarding a certain team’s interest in the controversial but ultra-talented running back Joe Mixon, along with some great insights on “diamonds in the rough” among later round draft picks that you can hear on the podcast.
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In addition to our pro sports coverage, our “SportsTalk” cameras have also been busy keeping up with local high school sports, including this past weekend’s Colonial League “Play Day” tournament…

We’d also like to thank Lehigh Valley track-and-field Chairs Bob Hartman and Brian Geist (EPC & Colonial League, respectively) for sending me the updated “performance list” for us to highlight the top male and female track athletes and their performances to date:

4-21-17 girls top 60
4-21-17 girls relay
4-21-17 girls frosh
4-21-17 boys top 60
4-21-17 boys relay
4-21-17 boys frosh

Colonial League Boys Week 4 Link: http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/boys/boys-track-field/
Colonial League Girls Week 4 Link : http://www.colonialleague.org/sports/girls/girls-track-field/

You can catch high school sports videos and interviews on this Thursday’s program, live at 7pm on RCN-TV, including a feature on the Saucon Valley track team that posted a major tri-meet win for both its girls and boys teams last week.  We’ll also have coverage a big girls lacrosse battle—tune in for details!

Behind the Mic: Bryce Harper – Enough Already!

Easter Sunday was a really nice day.  The whole family was present with everyone making it to the house.  Once again, my wife put together an extensive dinner, maintaining the traditions of a Ukrainian Easter; paska (Ukrainian bread); one egg shared by all to start the dinner; and a Ukrainian hymn signifying that Christ had risen.  It was sunny and warm outside and inside.  Even sports took a respite for the day.

And then at 11:00pm, I watched the news which has become the most dramatic program on TV these days.  And I always check out the Phillies results.  The Phillies lost.  Bryce Harper hit his second home run of the day on a 3-2 count with the Phils leading 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two on to Washington.    Do the math – a 6-4 loss.  It was Harper’s 18th home run against the Phillies in his five years with the Nationals.

If you root for any team other than the Nationals, Bryce Harper is not your favorite player.  He just seems to have a way of ruining one’s day.

But, let’s face it – Bryce Harper is REALLY, REALLY good.  He is a baseball superstar who truly lives up to the description every day he steps on the field.  I knew a bit about his journey to the major leagues, but I decided to investigate a bit further.  Wikipedia is always a good place to start.

  • He received his GED after his sophomore year in high school so he could begin his path to professional baseball career at the age of 17.
  • He played one season for the College of Southern Nevada as a catcher with his older brother pitching on the team. Harper was the Player of the Year in the conference.  He topped that honor by being named the best amateur player in the country.  And he played only one collegiate season.
  • He was drafted #1 by the Nationals in 2010; signed a 5-year, $9.9 million contract with 26 seconds left before the signing deadline. His signing bonus was $6.25 million.
  • He struggled early in his minor league career because as an optometrist told him, “You have some of the worst eyes I’ve ever seen.” Once he received contact lenses, he hit an amazing .480.
  • His major league debut occurred on April 28, 2012; he was an All-Star that year; and he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year.
  • Including this season, he has hit a home run on opening day every year in the majors.
  • His longest career home run (461-feet) is, naturally, against the Phillies.
  • He is a Seventh Day Adventist and drinks no alcohol.

A 4-3 Phillies win at the end of a nice Easter Sunday would have been a perfect way to end the day, but now that I know more about Bryce Harper and his road to the majors, it’s very hard not to respect his talents and his work ethic.  I wish he just wouldn’t be so hard on the Phillies.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Eagles might want to consider hiring the “Easter Bunny” as a linebacker. Take a look.

https://twitter.com/Nationals/status/853686707555840000/photo/1

And it was a legal hit – the bunny did not lead with his EARS!!

  1. Image, either good or bad, is so important for professional athletes. It often determines their future once they decide to leave the game they play.  Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning always appeared to be one of those squeaky clean guys, much like his brother Peyton.  Now we hear he may be involved in a memorabilia scam to sell items advertised as game-used when they were not and is being sued.  I have never been enamored with sports mementos, but this should be an interesting story.
  2. Last week, I spoke of some potential rule changes to shorten baseball games. The first report is out for this season and the games are averaging over five minutes longer than last year.
  3. The Chicago Cubs passed out their championship rings this past week. 108 white diamonds, 33 custom-cut red rubies and 46 blue sapphires make up the face.  The inner band features the infamous goat.

Cubs Rings        5.  Our first look at Lafayette’s new head coach, John Garrett, will take place on Saturday, April 29, when we televise the Lafayette Maroon-White game. The action is LIVE at 1:00pm.

The SportsTalk Shop: 2016 Predictions: Mid-Year Update

Each December both here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show, “SportsTalk”, panelists and I make some sports-based predictions for the new year.  I don’t get caught up in the prediction business ordinarily, but it’s become a bit of a tradition around the holidays to make a couple bold statements to go along with resolutions (of which I don’t do nearly as well).

While some sports prognosticators love to boast about how accurate they are with their futuristic insights, I make it a habit of going back and making public my predictions, and owning up to any that don’t come true.  (I’d also like to take a miniscule amount of credit for the ones that work out—I’m owed at least as much, right?)

Since we’re over the halfway point through the calendar year, and before we start ramping up our fall football coverage (which will be bigger and better than ever before!), I think I should take a peek at how some of my predictions are holding up and make myself accountable for any gaffes on my part.

Philly pro sports teams will win LESS games in 2016
The 2015-16 76ers certainly lived up to their end of my prediction.  Aside from forcing out the team’s General Manager, Sam Hinkie, they were near perfect in their quest for futility, reaching new levels of bad play, even with pressure from Jerry Colangelo (and the league office?) to try to improve.

My prediction will take a hit with the idea that the Sixers will try to go after some more recognizable free agency in all probability this offseason.  They might also win a few more games than expected if they select Brandon Ingram with the first pick in this month’s NBA Draft.  Selecting Ingram would make the team better—short-term—than if they select Ben Simmons or even draft down a few spots, but I don’t see that much improvement in November and December and still believe they’ll ring up more losses in the 2016 calendar year than they lost in 2015 (but the future is very bright for 2017).

I knew the Flyers were going to be improved, but had no idea that they would be as exciting to watch this past season as they were, to say nothing about making the playoffs and having a few good moments against the Capitals before losing to Washington in the first round of the NHL playoffs.  This team ramped up the speed of its rebuild and, with a few tweaks, will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, in not better, for next season.

The Phillies also have surprised me with better than average starting pitching, and the bullpen overcame a woeful start to the season and has pitched better, helping the team to a slightly better record than I had anticipated.  This, despite a woeful offense that had seven position players on the roster hitting below .200 after the first month of the season.

However, the Phillies fell (like a plummeting cannon ball) back to Earth hard and fast during the month of May and show very little signs of making a push to get back above, or probably even near, .500 this summer.

With less than half of the Major League baseball season remaining—which will still probably have more losses than wins, and an Eagles team in, at the very least, a retooling stage following the car wreck of the Chip Kelly Era, I’d say I still have a good chance at nailing this prediction.

The Wizards, Nationals AND Redskins – will have even greater success in 2016
With over half of the MLB season and the entire NFL season yet to come (and I’m looking pretty good for both of these teams), we only have the Wizards to look at.  And on the prediction that they would have a better 2016…I admit I put up a major “airball.”

Off a second-round playoff appearance and loss to a high-quality team, I thought the Wizards could improve and—with the right match-up–the Wiz could actually advance a round further.  However, not only did they take took a major step back in win total, they also didn’t qualify for the post-season, ushering in a quick replacement at the helm by bringing in Scott Brooks (formerly of Oklahoma City) as a new head coach.

Rumors of discontent and players “trading barbs” (according to the Washington CBS sports radio station) spread wildly as they limped home to close out the regular season out of the playoffs.  There are different reports as far as remaining free agent possibilities and other speculation about what direction the team could go in.  Also, players are a little less secure than this time a year ago and the forecast is more ambiguous as far as how good this team will be for the upcoming season, even with one of the most exciting, yet underrated players, in John Wall back on board.  I’ll stick to my guns and say they make a jump for the 2016-17 campaign.

Notice, I did NOT include the Capitals in this mix.  Their back-to-back premature failings in the playoffs have me worried about their future, and I’ll also continue to say (as I did following their playoff exit) that they might actually take a step back in the upcoming year.

2016 will be a successful District XI Wrestling season
I have never claimed to be a wrestling expert, but the fact that we had so many talented underclassmen returning for the 2015-16 wrestling season made it easy for me to say that the Lehigh Valley would have tremendous success at the state tournament in Hershey.

Not only did Bethlehem Catholic come away with convincing (mostly dominating) performances in the team PIAA competitions, but they accomplished this goal against the best the state of Pennsylvania had to offer, by competing in the 3A classifications (as critics had ask for, for a number of seasons).

Individually, District XI featured eight gold medalists and 20 overall medal winners.  Special props go out to Palisades’ Tyler Marsh, the lone wrestler in the RCN viewing area to receive the top scholar athlete award.

For an area that has had a long tradition of great wrestling success, it was a tremendous season all the way around for many different schools and I can unequivocally chalk this one up as one I got correct.

Stay tuned for more sports conversations coming up and don’t forget to check back later in the year as I take a look at the rest of my predictions to see how I fared.

Behind the Mic: Brotherly Love?

Philadelphia was certainly in the limelight this past week with the Democratic National Convention taking center stage.  All of the media had a presence there.  However, there was no national sports media.

I bring this up because Ken Griffey, Jr. and Mike Piazza were inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 24.

I watched the great Griffey, Jr. play with the Mariners and the Reds.  His numbers were awesome – 630 home runs, 13 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Glove Awards, and the statistical list goes on and on.  He received 99.32% of the votes, the highest ever in Hall of Fame history.

Mike Piazza’s story was even more amazing.  As a favor to Dodgers manager, Tommy LaSorda, he was drafted in the 62nd round.  He went on to hit the most home runs by a catcher, bat .308 lifetime, and spent 16 years in the majors.  He was an All-Star 10 consecutive seasons.  He certainly repaid the favor – but mostly as a New York Met.

So what does this have to do with Philadelphia?  The ceremony in Cooperstown made me wonder who the last Philadelphia Phillie was to be inducted into the Hall.  I discovered it has been a while – 21 years to be exact.  On July 30, 1995, Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn entered that day.  And Philadelphia celebrated with an estimated 25,000+ fans showing up for the induction ceremony.

Twenty-one years is a long time.  And it will only get longer, it appears.  As you look at the list of “potential” Phillies to get a consideration, you come up empty.  Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Bobby Abreu will all probably come up short.  Jim Thome, Scott Rolen, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Curt Schilling could possibly get in.  Just not as Phillies.

And it’s not just the Phillies casting a pall over the Philadelphia sports scene.  The Eagles’ last Hall-of-Famer was Reggie White – 24 years ago.  The 76ers’ last was Charles Barkley in 2006.  And neither of these teams appears to be going to get someone in their respective Halls very soon.  Flyers’ fans certainly remember their Hall of Famers Bill Barber (1990), Bobby Clarke (1987), and Bernie Parent (1984), but their inductions were a long time ago.  Mark Howe was the last Philadelphia professional inducted in 2011 in The National Hockey League Hall of Fame.

So as much as we admire the Piazzas and the Griffey, Jr.s of the sporting world, Philadelphia fans would much prefer seeing one of their professional athletes in the limelight.  National politicians?  Not so much.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Phillies are batting .218 in their home games this year and are scoring 2.92 runs per game at Citizens Bank Park. That’s the lowest run production in any home park in the major leagues.  Buy your ticket and see no offense at all.
  2. Because July 31 was a Sunday, the Major League Baseball trade deadline was extended to 4:00pm on Monday, August 1. As I write this, phone lines around the MLB offices must be buzzing with activity.  Someone might want to trade for the LA Dodgers’ ball girl.  On Sunday, she caught a foul ball traveling at 108.7 miles per hour.
  3. If you need a Lehigh Valley reason to watch the Olympics, then let Joe Kovacs be that reason. Joe, a Bethlehem Catholic graduate, is a medal favorite in the shotput in Rio.  He won the world championships last year.  The final for shot put is August 18 @ 8:00pm.
  4. Sunday produced another great “Major” finish in golf. The PGA Championship came down to the final putt of the final match.  Jimmy Walker (no, not of “Dyn-o-mite” fame) won his first major.  Every major golf tournament this year was won by a first-timer.
  5. The Patriot League Football Media Day was this week, so the pads will be thumping between now and opening day or night. RCNTV has Central Catholic at Freedom on opening night, August 26.

Behind the Mic: Announcing the Masters

As I hope you may have noticed, I have been away from my blog for a bit.  April is a quiet sports month for us here at RCN so it is a good time for me to reunite with my wife and with my golf game.  I managed to do both this past month – I went on a cruise and followed that up with a five-day golf trip.  Those obviously made the month fly by, but it is good to be back at the computer and looking towards the baseball championships coming up this month.

The last major sporting event that I watched prior to vacation was the Masters.  I have always been intrigued by the reverence that the announcers seem to pay to this event.  So I did some research and found that, in 1979, the radio and television announcers were given rules and a terminology guide from the Masters committee that they must follow.  Some have lost their job by not obeying the edict.  Here are a few of the rules:

  • Never refer to the gallery or patrons as a mob or crowd.
  • Never estimate the size of the gallery.
  • Never refer to players’ earnings.
  • Never refer to Masters prize money.
  • De-emphasize the players’ antics.
  • Do not compare any holes at Augusta National with those at another golf course.
  • The water in front of the 13th green is not to be called Rae’s Creek, but a tributary of Rae’s Creek.
  • Make no reference to Masters tickets having been sold out.
  • Make frequent mention of the presentation ceremony to be conducted at the end of the final round.
  • Do not guess where a ball might be.
  • Do not estimate the length of a putt.

 In addition, there is a Terminology and Style Guide which includes the following:

  • Augusta National Golf Club – not Country Club or Golf Course.
  • Patrons – the people in attendance are patrons, not fans or spectators.
  • Second Cut – there is no rough; the higher grass should be referred to as the second cut.
  • Bunkers – they are not sand traps.
  • First nine/Second nine – not front nine and back nine.
  • Groupings – not “threesomes” for rounds one and two.
  • Hole number 1 – not 1st
  • 1st round – preferred term for rounds and Final round for 4th

There are more rules and more terminologies, but you get the idea.  And… if you announce the Masters, you BETTER get the idea.  Gary McCord was fired in 1994 for saying that “bikini wax” was used on the Augusta greens to make them slick and that some of the bunkers around the course looked like “body bags”.  He has not been asked back.  Long-time announcer Jack Whitaker once referred to the gallery as a “mob scene” and the Augusta committee got him removed from the broadcast.

This Masters will be remembered for the collapse of Jordan Spieth in the final round, but I, for one, paid a bit more attention to every word that was spoken during the broadcast.  And, I am quite sure, so did every one of the announcers (if they wanted to keep the job).

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Some good news out of Philadelphia – a new Eagles’ quarterback, the Flyers made the playoffs, and, better yet, the Phillies are winning. Light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel.
  1. Speaking of Eagles’ football, Carson Wentz played for North Dakota State. I did a Lafayette-North Dakota State game in Fargo, North Dakota, back in 2011.  Boy, do they love their football.  It was a packed house at the indoor stadium with the loudest crowd I have experienced.  Lafayette lost 42-6.  There is not much else to do out there.  In the local pub the night before the game, dogs sat on the bar stools and they had a meat raffle!  What?
  1. I mentioned Bourjos, Hernandez, Herrera, Franco, Howard, Galvis, Rupp, and Goedel as the Phillies position players to start the season. However, it has been the pitching staff, both starters and relievers, who have been responsible for the success of the team so far.
  1. As I write this, every team in the National League East, except the Braves, is at .500 or better. The Phillies have the fourth best record in the National League and third best in the NL East.
  1. Jim Best will offer up his blog on this site next week. Thanks to him, John Leone, and Scott Barr filling in for me.

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles/Redskins Draft Grades

I know one of last year’s “SportsTalk Shop” blogs that drew the most feedback on my part was my analysis following the NFL draft, with thoughts on both the Eagles and Redskins’ selections.  I hope I’m up to the challenge again this year as we take a look at both teams’ efforts last weekend.

REDSKINS: 1st ROUND
There were a couple ways the Redskins could have gone.  There was a plethora of defensive lineman/linebackers available (including several from Alabama) that Washington could have selected to fill some holes.  They could have moved down to accumulate talent.  Or, they could have gone for a flashing wide receiving name like Laquon Treadwell to groom to potentially replace DeShawn Jackson after his contract expires at the end of 2016.

However, they went with a less flashy, but probably better all-around receiver in Josh Doctson from TCU.  While Treadwell and Will Fuller received more pre-draft hype while a few national mock drafts didn’t even have Doctson going in the first round, many people I talked with thought Doctson was the best receiver in the NFL Draft.  The multi-sport athlete has overcome some adversity during his high school and college careers (one story includes his mother reportedly wanted him to quite football after breaking his collar bone in a scrimmage when he was 16 years old).  With multiple picks remaining and several more defensive options seemingly available for the later rounds (and the fact Washington actually traded down a spot to get him), I’d give the ‘Skins an…

GRADE:  A

EAGLES: 1ST ROUND
Philadelphia followed the Rams by making a major move up to secure a “franchise” quarterback in Carson Wentz.  While a final, definitive decision on whether this was a good move or not won’t be known for a while, you had to give Vice President of Football Operation Howie Roseman credit for being aggressive and, at least on the surface, making an apparent good deal.

Wentz rated high in all the off-season activities, camps, interviews, et al, and even though he did not play for a major Division I-A school, it seems like they rolled the dice on a quality prospect.  Wentz has the physical skills, a good head on his shoulders and, if Sam Bradford returns to the team, the time to be able to get up to speed of the pro game.  If he turns out to be two-thirds of what some Eagles fans are currently dreaming about…?

GRADE:  A-  (they gave up a huge amount in draft picks with a number of holes yet to fill)

REDSKINS: 2nd & 3rd ROUNDS
Washington needed help at corner and on the outside linebacker positions, and grabbed two excellent players in hybrid LB Su’a Cravens (USC) and DB Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech).

Fuller is a great young corner with speed who could make an impact with the ‘Skins this fall.  I remember watching him two years ago and thought then he could be a later first-round option in the draft (before he was injured last year).  I really believed the Eagles could have really benefitted by selecting the DMV native and Good Counsel alum and, quite frankly, I’m shocked they didn’t select him, which makes this an even better pick for their division rivals.

To be completely honest, I had to go to NFL.com to look up more details on Cravens and don’t recall even watching him play on TV, but what I did find online did impress me.  He comes from a long pro-football lineage and there’s nothing I found to suggest he wasn’t a very solid pick at the 53rd spot.

GRADE:  A

EAGLES: 2nd & 3rd ROUNDS
Coming into the draft, I felt that the Eagles needed to add at least one higher-end cornerback or safety.  After all, they probably need at least two, if not three, quality defensive backs if this team seriously wants to contend this fall–something they apparently think they’re capable of, since they committed $36 million to non-quarterbacks-of-the-future.  After not getting enough depth via free agency (nice job picking up Josh Norman, Washington, by the way), the Eagles clearly had to select someone to help the latter-half of their defensive with their next couple picks after Wentz.

Granted, Chip Kelly’s bone-headed move (or one of them) to trade for Sam Bradford prevented the Birds from a second-round pick in this year’s draft.   And I know the prevailing wisdom (and usually my personal preference) is to draft the “best available” options in which you are presented (something they clearly did NOT do when they drafted Marcus Smith two years ago).  However, to pass on Kendall Fuller, Nick Vigil or Brandon Williams is inexcusable for Roseman & Co.

I like Guard Isaac Seumalo a lot (even though he needs to improve on his pass protection—according to CBS Sports–which is a concern if true).  However, to not select one of the available corners or safeties in the third round or at least try to try to move up to get another pick was a big mistake.

GRADE:  C+

REDSKINS: LATER ROUNDS
There was speculation that the Redskins might try to target an early-to-mid-round quarterback as insurance in case Kirk Cousins regresses this fall.  However, quarterback Nate Sudfeld is probably not a guy who will make Washington fans chant his name if Cousins struggles this fall.

I do like some of the selections made elsewhere in the later rounds.  I love Temple product Matt Ioannidis to add depth along the defensive line (full disclosure: yes, I am a Temple University grad).  Keith Marshall might help out on special teams and as a later-option running back.  The Redskins added a nice piece with Steven Daniels.  I saw him play a couple games at Boston College–he hits hard and impressed me against the run.  Daniels might actually contribute in limited opportunities.

GRADE:  B

EAGLES: LATER ROUNDS
Still no defensive backs…until the 196th (sixth round) pick? Really?  Is Chip Kelly still in charge here?

Blake Countess and Jalen Mills are nice pieces, and the reports say they could play both safety and cornerback.  They did offer additional support with Running Back Wendell Smallwood and Offensive Lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai to help Wentz (when he’s ready), but the Eagles are still one, or two, or maybe three quality D-back options short and still lack depth at middle linebacker.  I know you can solve every problem through the draft.  I also get the argument that they wanted to add a couple O-line pieces as protection for the quarterback, but there were/are additional decent offensive line options still available to add depth.  And did they HAVE to draft another player from Oregon?

GRADE:  D+

FINAL GRADES:

REDSKINS: A-  (Solid moves all around, taking best-available players in nearly every case while upgrading several positions that needed to be addressed).

EAGLES:  C  (Cornerback?  Safety?  Middle linebacker?  Bueller?)

Your comments, complains, opinions are most welcome via email: rcnsportstalk@rcn.com

Behind the Mic: Remember Deflategate?

As I write this on January 18, 2016, I am reminded that exactly one year ago today the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a 45-7 score in the AFC Championship.  Prior to the start of the game and during the game, the Colts accused the Patriots of underinflating the footballs.  Tom Brady was at one point suspended for four games to start this season, only to have the punishment upheld twice on appeal and then have it eventually rescinded because a judge found that there was an absence of “fairness and due process”.

“Deflategate” became the center of fans’ attention and media controversy for months on end.  Nothing similar has caused a stir this year, but that doesn’t mean the NFL has been without its share of on and off-field problems.  It’s just that the microscope has not been as focused on team and player conduct.  The Cincinnati-Pittsburgh debacle during the Wild Card weekend may have changed that as rule violation after rule violation occurred.  Lest you think this has been a very quiet year for the NFL as far as conduct is concerned, let me give you some interesting facts:

There have been 16 players suspended this year for a total of 49 games.  The common infractions were labeled as “violation of league’s personal conduct policy”, but they also included punching and breaking the jaw of a teammate, domestic violence, vehicular assault, poking an eye, helmet-to-helmet contact, and repeated violations of safety-related playing rules.  Vontaze Burfict of the Cincinnati Bengals was recently accused of the latter and was suspended for three games next season.  He was certainly no angel in the Pittsburgh game.

Violations of the NFL drug policy are considered separate from the previous infractions.  That is a separate category.  Substance infractions fall under two headings – 1) those that improve performance; 2) those that are for recreational use.

Fifty-three players were suspended for these infractions this year accounting for 189 games. Not included in that number are the four players who were suspended for the entire season and two who are listed as “indefinite suspensions”.

And, by the way, two coaches were suspended for 1) punching a teenager and 2) an undisclosed violation.  In addition, the league suspended a general manager for texting his personnel during a game, two equipment handlers, and an official for his failure to catch an 18-second mistake on the clock.

That is a total of 108 individuals associated with the NFL who required severe discipline by the league.  It is a shame we do not hear more about the exemplary players who do a great deal for their community and various charities.  Those players do not seek out the headlines, nor do their stories garner much attention.  But then there are those who proclaim that they “are not role models”. I hope young people take those athletes at their word.  Because, obviously, too many of them are not.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I’m sure that Eagles fans saw “déjà vu all over again” as Yogi used to say, when they watched the horrible clock management by Andy Reid on Saturday night when the Chiefs lost to the Patriots. If you watched the end of each half, I’m sure you were appalled at the total ineptness to control the clock in obvious scoring situations.  That is, unless you remember how the Eagles used to do it.
  2. I invite you to read Greg Joyce’s highly entertaining piece in the Express-Times on former Liberty player Greg Noack, whose basketball season at Monmouth was curtailed due to concussions. He and some teammates, known as the Monmouth Bench Mob, have become nationally known for their sideline antics.  It’s a great story.  Click here to read it.
  1. The Eagles hired Doug Pederson on Monday to be their new head coach. He was a career backup quarterback (3-14 in 17 games).  As the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, he did not call the plays.  His head coaching experience was in high school with the Calvary Baptist Academy.  Keep your fingers crossed!
  2. All the home teams won in the NFL this past weekend. I hope you got to see the end of the Packers and Cardinals overtime game.  Just amazing!!
  3. It’s the first match-up of the season Saturday when the Lafayette men play Lehigh in Patriot League basketball. If you are snowed in (which might be the case), give the game a look.  It’s LIVE on RCN at 2:00pm.

Gary's Picks

NFL PICKS LAST WEEK – 10-6; OVERALL 160-96 (63%)
NFL PICKS (WILD CARD) – 3-1
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS – 3-1; PLAYOFFS (6-2)
 

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP PICKS
NEW ENGLAND
CAROLINA

The SportsTalk Shop: “Final” HS Football Poll 2015

Our “SportsTalk” pollsters did it again!

As we approach the final week of the high school football regular season, a quick glance back to our pre-season predictions reveal that our pollsters correctly identified all of the teams in our “small school” poll.  In our “big schools,” four of the top five teams were correctly predicted—in order– back in mid-August (our “fifth” team did receive votes).  Moreover, our pollsters’ final results are very much in-line with the District XI power point system—which officially ranks the team at the end of the regular season and determines the playoff positioning.

As I mentioned before the first summer scrimmage, we have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have some wonderful and insightful people participate in our District XI football poll.  My thanks to all of the coaches, athletic directors and media members for their participation in the most comprehensive poll in the region.

And now, the final results…

Big Schools (11 pollsters)

    1. Parkland—55 points (11 first-place votes)
    2. Freedom — 43
    3. Easton — 34
    4. Liberty – 22
    5. Stroudsburg – 6

Other schools receiving votes: Emmaus, Nazareth

Small Schools (10 pollsters)

      1. Becahi – 47 points (7 first-place votes)
      2. Saucon Valley – 43 (3 first-place votes)
      3. Notre Dame-GP – 30
      4. Northwestern – 16
      5. Central Catholic/Salisbury — 5

Looking back, easily the two best games of the regular season (to date) had to be the Easton/Freedom and Notre Dame/Saucon Valley games.

All four of these teams had some great wins this season, and their contests against each other made for some thrilling high school football action.

Looking ahead, there are some interesting match-ups in the regular season finale, as teams jockey for spots in the District XI and the Eastern Conference playoffs.  In 4A, Freedom and Liberty, who play Saturday (RCN-TV, 7pm) have both clinched districts, along with Parkland and Wyoming Valley West.  Easton needs to beat Nazareth to make the playoffs and the Blue Eagles with a loss and a Pleasant Valley victory.

In 3A, there are plenty of spots and important ball games this weekend.  Bethlehem Catholic plays Central Catholic on Saturday.  A Golden Hawk win gives them the number-one seed and knocks the Vikings out of districts.  Undefeated Saucon Valley still has not clinched a spot, but still could get in if they lose to Palisades on Friday.

In 2A, Notre Dame and Northwestern have both clinched district spots and Salisbury would be in with a win over Southern Lehigh.  The Pirates need a win combined with a North Schuylkill loss.

Who’ll win these games this weekend and what are each teams’ keys heading into the regular season finale? Join Gary Laubach, Joe Craig and myself this Thursday live at 7pm for “RCN SportsTalk” as we break down all these games, the various post-season scenarios and the playoff system overall.  Also, our special guest will be Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver and former Liberty HS standout Devin Street, who’ll talk about his career and also preview this Sunday night’s Eagles/Cowboys game.