On The Edge Blog

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eagles draft preview

Despite endless hours of repetitive talking, the NFL Draft is always one of my most favorite weekends, because it usually provides the fodder we need to argue our team's case for NFL supremacy the next season, despite that being five months away.

I know that draft picks build a team for the future, but that doesn't mean the Eagles can't tweak this year's team enough to add one or two wins to their expected 2008 total.

After signing starter-quality free agents like Asante Samuel and Chris Clemons, the Eagles addressed their depth chart by adding Rocky Boiman and Dan Klecko, but there are still a few meaningful holes to address on the 2008 roster.

In this draft, the Eagles have 11 draft picks, but eight of them fall in rounds four through seven. The Eagles don't have that many open roster spots, so I would expect them to look to trade a few of the late picks for 2009 selections, or in packages to move up for intriguing, yet falling, prospects in the middle rounds. In the end, I would only expect to see probably six or seven selections by the Eagles this year.

With those selections, look for the Eagles to address their needs at wide receiver, safety, defensive line, offensive line, and kickoff/punt returner.

The first need is the most intriguing because of the Lito (whoa, oh-oh-oh) Sheppard situation.

My personal opinion is that the Eagles should keep Lito, and have the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL, especially considering the fact that the NFC East is home to guys like Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens. It wouldn't make sense to trade Lito for a second round pick and then draft a corner who is worse than him. The only intelligent reason to trade Lito would be if the Eagles could get a number one receiver in return.

Potential wide receivers to trade for:
Chad Johnson: Hopefully the Bengals finally have gotten tired of Ocho Cinco's whiny antics and would do a one-for-one trade. The only problem is that his cap hit is huge until June 1, making a trade this weekend highly unlikely.

Roy Williams: Rumors have started circulating that the Eagles are making a strong play for Detroit's top receiver. Williams is in the final year of his contract, and the Lions have Calvin Johnson making a ton of money in his rookie contract, so with the right deal and enough coaxing, the Eagles could pry him away.

Anquan Boldin: Arizona's other wide receiver is probably pretty ticked off that he's making chicken scratch in comparison to the $40 million contract that his teammate, Larry Fitzgerald, signed this offseason. The Cardinals were in cap trouble before re-signing Fitzgerald, so maybe they trade Boldin before he becomes too expensive and forces their hand.

Brandon Marshall: The T.O.-esque young receiver in Denver has fallen out of favor with his quarterback, Jay Cutler, because of all of his off-the-field troubles. Is that enough of a reason to ship him out of the Mile High City? Probably not. But that doesn't mean the Eagles won't ask.

If none of the established wide receivers are coming to Philly this weekend, the only one in the draft that I would look at in the first round is Devin Thomas of Michigan State. He's 6-2, 216 pounds, and ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.

The other projected first round receivers are either too small (DeSean Jackson) or too slow (Malcolm Kelly) for the Eagles offense. If Thomas isn't there at number 19, they should look elsewhere in the first round.

And if they are looking elsewhere, where better than the defensive side of the ball, and specifically, the defensive line? As the New York Giants showed during the playoffs, you can never have enough quality pass rushers.

Right now, the Eagles have Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole and Juqua Thomas as starters, with under-sized Chris Clemons thrown in solely to blitz. While I think 2007 second round pick Victor Abiamiri will progress this year, I would like a fifth option in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

Several weeks ago, I suggested that the Eagles should look at Clemson's Phillip Merling (6-4, 276) and Miami's Calais Campbell (6-8, 290). Both should be around when the Eagles pick, and both are big run stuffing ends who can spell Cole and Clemons on obvious running downs and two-tight end sets.

In the second round, I'd like to see the Eagles grab the best available safety, or even trade up from the 49th pick to grab someone like Kenny Phillips or Tyrell Johnson. Phillips would be an ideal heir-apparent to Brian Dawkins. He is 6-2, 212 pounds, runs a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, and hits like a truck.

In fact, the Eagles might be best served to again trade down in the first round (for an additional 2009 pick) and grab Phillips in the late 20s of the first round.

To address the rest of the needs, the Eagles should just take the best player available in rounds three through seven, with one exception. I'd love to see the Eagles draft Dexter Jackson, the little speed demon wide receiver from Appalachian State, in the third or fourth round. His 4.37-speed would fill the gaping hole at kickoff/punt returner that has plagued the Eagles for the last few years.

If you don't believe me, check out his performance in their September upset over Michigan. Jackson had three catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 19-yard end around run, and returned punts. The kid is pure home run hitter on the football field, registering seven catches of more than 40 yards during his senior year.

You know what? I don't really care who they pick. I'm sure I'll be happy with the draft as long as Andy Reid doesn't draft an offensive lineman in the first round.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Flyers/Captials Preview

A few weeks ago I wrote in this space about what went wrong with the Flyers season, and how they went from the top of the Eastern Conference to a team on the verge of slipping out of the playoffs.

Since then, the Flyers closed out the season with a 7-1-1 record, giving them 15 points in their last nine games, and moving them into the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, which, up until last Saturday evening, meant playing a team that probably didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Last Saturday, the Carolina Hurricanes were sitting in the third spot in the conference, based on the fact that they were leading the pathetic Southeast division. If the Flyers had drawn Carolina in the playoffs, we would already be buying tickets for the second round.

Sadly, the Washington Capitals, and their uber-prospect Alexander Ovechkin, won 11 of their last 12 games and jumped from out of the playoffs to the number three seed with a win on Saturday night over the Florida Panthers. Now, I love hockey, and am by no means a purist, but I really don’t like the fact the Flyers playoff matchup came down to the ineptitude of teams from Florida and North Carolina. Shouldn’t a team from Winnipeg or Medicine Hat have decided who the Flyers would play in the first round?

Well now that I’ve officially ranted about being anti-Southeast America when it comes to hockey, let’s take a look at the key factors in what should be the most entertaining first round playoff series.

Can the Flyers stop Alexander Ovechkin? Ovechkin had 65 goals this season, which is an unheard of number considering he scored 13 more goals than second place Ilya Kovalchuk, but luckily for the Flyers, they have experience playing against a star of this quality. They play eight times each year against the two players who can challenge Ovechkin for the title of best player in the NHL. The Flyers went 5-3 against cross-state rival Pittsburgh, and their Ovechkin-esque stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That’s a team with two of the best young stars in the game, and the Flyers managed to take that series, so why wouldn’t they be able to contain Ovechkin and then shut down the rest of the team, which boasts such stars as ... yeah, they don’t actually have any other stars. The Capitals have been surging by beating up on the rest of their awful Southeast division, and pretending that guys like Sergei Federov (did anyone know that he was still in the league?) and Viktor Kozlov are actual star players. Outside of Ovechkin, and defenseman Mike Green, nobody on the Caps would crack the top three lines on the Flyers.

Is Martin Biron ready for primetime? This year is Biron’s tenth season in the NHL, and he has yet to start a playoff game. That fact doesn’t make me feel confident as I have nightmares of Ovechkin picking apart Biron’s lack of fundamentals. I would feel much better if Antero Niittymaki started in goal for the Flyers, but since that’s not going to happen, I’m going to need to find some good in Biron’s shaky performance this season. Biron, like most goaltenders, is very streaky. If you check out his last 24 games, he had streaks of wins or losses, but never went back and forth, and right now Biron is on a hot streak, posting back-to-back shutouts of the Devils and Penguins. Personally, I don’t think Biron is the key factor. The key is the Flyers defense. If youngsters Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent can play shutdown defense on Ovechkin, the Flyers will win. If it comes down to Ovechkin against Biron, the Flyers are in for trouble.

Are the Flyers healthy enough to win? Daniel Briere and Derian Hatcher both missed games down the stretch for the Flyers, and both are crucial to the Flyers playoff destiny. A healthy Derian Hatcher will be able to play physical with Ovechkin and keep him from developing a comfort zone on the ice, while a healthy Daniel Briere will help the Flyers offense to keep the Caps defense honest and prevent them from collapsing in the offensive zone in front of Biron. Barring any setbacks, Briere should be ready for game one on Friday, but Hatcher doesn’t look quite as ready.

Prediction: Flyers in 6. Ovechkin will win one game by himself, Biron will lose one game for the Flyers, but the Broad Street Bullies will do enough to win the series and advance to the second round.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A thought-provoking opening day

What a dreary day to start a season that comes with such bright promise! It seems like only yesterday that Harry Kalas was singing (if you can really call it that) High Hopes, and then came Opening Day, and we all should have realized that it was going to be a bad day to be a Phillies fan just from the look of the sky. After a bright and sunny weekend, the Phillies trotted onto the field with gray sky overhead and a light rain sporadically falling throughout the day.
Now I'm not one of those crazy folks who is ready to throw away the entire 2008 season because of one bad game. And believe me, there are plenty of those people out there. I was actually handed tickets to Wednesday's and Thursday's Phillies games because a fan was so disgusted with how the events of Opening Day played out. Either that or he was really drunk. Regardless, I still think the Phillies will win the National League East, but the 11-6 loss to the Washington Nationals brings a few new questions to the forefront.
Why can't Tom Gordon pitch in April? More importantly, why can't Tom Gordon pitch in a tie game?
After the Phillies tied the game up in the seventh inning and then J.C. Romero shut the door in the eighth inning, was anyone really confident that Gordon was going to keep the game tied in the ninth inning? You could actually hear hearts stopping in the crowd when the bullpen door opened and Flash came out, especially after his horrendous April last season. I think Flash will have a good season, but even I said that we needed three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the game. As it turns out, we actually need six, because Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter threw more strikes on Monday than Flash did. As far as the bullpen goes, I really liked what I saw out of Romero, and I truly believe that once Brad Lidge comes off the disabled list, Flash will forget about his 135.00 ERA and settle into his role as a setup man. Until then maybe Charlie Manuel should trick Flash into thinking that he's not pitching in the ninth inning.
What is Jimy Williams' purpose with the Phillies?
I know that Williams is officially listed as the bench coach, but this first game said that he's either too old to help with strategic moves, or he just wasn't paying attention. I know that when double switches and moves of that type backfire, Charlie Manuel seems to take the heat, but isn't that why Williams was brought in? On opening day, the Phillies entered the ninth inning with Tom Gordon, Tim Lahey and Clay Condrey left in the bullpen. In a tie game with Gordon about to come in for the ninth inning, did any member of the coaching staff wonder who was going to pitch the tenth inning? The coaches inexplicably forgot to make a double-switch and prevent Gordon from being due to hit third in the bottom of the ninth. Worse, they left just two pitchers remaining for a potential extra inning game, and neither of those pitchers belongs on a Major League roster. I get that Gordon is 40 years old and probably shouldn't pitch two innings on opening day, so then why didn't Romero pitch a second inning with a day off the next day? Aren't these the thoughts that earn Jimy Williams a paycheck? Heck, I'll do it for free! Charlie can just text me and I'll give him a good common sense answer. In all honesty, how are we supposed to trust Jimy Williams with the team's Xs and Os if he can't even spell his name right?
Who's going to be the team's MVP this year?
I know it's only one game, but Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley look ready to play. Utley probably would have won the MVP award last season if he hadn't missed a month with a broken bone in his right hand, and then J-Roll stepped up in his absence and carried the team into the playoffs. I think both will have MVP-caliber seasons, but in the end, Utley will probably have the better statistical year because he hits for a higher average, he can drive in Rollins, and he has the lineup protection of Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell behind him. (Just a side thought here: Has any team since the New York Yankees in the 1920s and 30s had three of the best players in baseball at the same time? Rollins is the best shortstop in the game; Utley is far and away the best second baseman; and Howard is probably in a three-way tie with Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols for the top first baseman)
How many fans will lose their voice booing Adam Eaton when he makes his first start of the season at Citizens Bank Park?
All of them...provided Eaton's outing lasts longer than one inning. I have never seen a guy get booed as mercilessly as Eaton was when he was introduced before the game. Statistically, he was the worst pitcher in baseball last year, and he deserved every decibel of booing that echoed throughout the stadium.
Now that those questions have been answered, remember that the Phillies started 4-11 last year and still won the division.
No worries...yet.

Down goes Pedro!

What a shock!
I've been saying all along that Pedro Martinez could not be relied on, and what does he do in his first start? "He said he kinda felt a pop."
All of those confident Mets fans swore that he was healthy and would dominate this season based off of a few starts last September. I remember saying that I'd be shocked if he made 20 starts or topped 150 innings. I don't know how long Pedro will be out, but when a player says that he felt a "pop", it's usually not a short term injury.
So now the Mets have Johan Santana and then a lot of uncertainty. Granted the Phillies have Cole Hamels and a lot of uncertainty (but hopefully a strong season from Brett Myers).
You never hope for a player on the opposing team to get injured (You just hope they stink!), but this one seemed pretty obvious. Almost as obvious as Flash Gordon's implosion on Opening Day...more on that later today!
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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
Location: United States

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