July 25, 2016
Eagles training camp opened this morning in the blistering heat of South Philadelphia, and it will only get stickier in the months ahead for new coach Doug Pederson.
The irony of the situation is that Pederson thinks he knows what to expect here, having served as the target of fan wrath during an ugly nine-game stint as starting quarterback back in 1999. He doesn’t. He has no clue what happens to a coach in this city when he blows a game with dumb play-calls or insane clock management.
In fact, Pederson got a preview of coming attractions during his inaugural news conference in January, when the Philadelphia media hammered him for mismanaging the final minutes of the New England-Kansas City playoff game last season. At the time, Pederson was merely an offensive coordinator, and we didn’t even have a dog in that fight.
Welcome back, Doug. Don’t forget your earplugs.
The big story since Pederson returned last winter has been the three-headed monster at quarterback – surprise returnee Sam Bradford, security blanket Chase Daniel and future franchise superstar (the Eagles hope) Carson Wentz. That drama alone should make 2016 a fascinating season.
But a far more immediate concern will be Pederson himself, and the many questions surrounding his rookie season as an NFL head coach. Pederson has served in a variety of roles since retiring as a player, but he has not been the head guy, the final word, since a stint with a private Christian high school team from 2005-08.
Fans have been worried about Wentz making the jump from Division 1AA at North Dakota State all the way to the NFL this year. Hey, guess what? The coach is trying to go from high school to the NFL.
Can Pederson do it? Can someone who was so unimpressive as a player find glory as a head coach? Or will a man groomed in the imposing shadow of Andy Reid emerge with all of the flaws that have made the former Eagles coach such an enigma?
There’s a very good chance Pederson will be adept at handling the quarterbacks; no one is questioning his acumen there. The new coach is also a far better communicator with players than his predecessor, Chip Kelly. (Who isn’t?) And Pederson is definitely more open-minded, more accessible.
But that’s about all we can say as training camp opens. We have no idea – nor does he, really – whether he can oversee a staff of coaches, call the right plays under duress, manage the clock better than his mentor, and, above all, accept the profound responsibility of Eagles head coach in the most demanding sports city in America.
Earlier this month, Pederson reflected on his ugly 2-7 tenure as a starting quarterback here with understandable discomfort. He said he stopped listening to sports radio (good idea), stopped reading newspapers, tuned out all the noise. He even claimed fans threw batteries at him during the peak of their outrage.
Well, here’s what Pederson can expect 17 years later:
• The first time Bradford throws an interception, fans will clamor for Wentz.
• The first time the defense wins a game, fans will want defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to replace him.
• The first time he squanders a timeout, fans will want offensive coordinator Frank Reich to replace him.
• The first time the Eagles lose a game they should have won, he will be vilified in every tavern and on every street corner in the city.
As training camp opens today on this much-awaited 2016 season, I’d like to be one of the first people to wish Doug Pederson all the luck in the world.
He’s definitely going to need it.
With the start of a new football season upon us, it’s time once again to consider the evil ways of the Dallas Cowboys, a sports franchise that somehow continues to hold a special place in the NFL despite 20 years with a championship.
The latest blotch on that nauseating Cowboys star came last week, when their top draft pick, Ezekiel Elliott, was accused of brutally beating his ex-girlfriend. These charges came equipped with a series of hideous photos on TMZ.com, and now an NFL investigation.
Before the draft, there had been rumors that the Ohio State running back was a bad act, but they didn’t stop owner Jerry Jones. Nothing stops Jones. Last season, he took on another accused domestic abuser, Greg Hardy, at one point even anointing the defensive end a team leader. Hardy was such a bad teammate last year, even Jones ran out of patience.
Handicappers of the NFC East this season keep focusing on the health of Tony Romo, whose collarbone is held together with screws. What they are ignoring is three defensive starters – DE Randy Gregory, four games, DE DeMarcus Lawrence (four games) and LB Rolando McClain (10 games) – who will all be out for drug infractions.
The McClain case is especially interesting, since Jones admitted that most of his front office aides want the two-time violator released. Of course, the owner ignored his staff. As with Hardy, Jones is never really concerned about character.
“These (drug) dependency issues are a difficult thing to address,” the owner said. “We are proud of everything that we’ve gotten from Rolando.”
Proud? Really? It should be noted that, since the Eagles lost Lane Johnson to a drug suspension two seasons ago, Dallas players have tested positive for an illegal substance seven times – more than any other NFL team during that span.
In other words, the Dallas Cowboys are every bit as morally bankrupt as we think they are. It will be a distinct pleasure to see them fail again in 2016.
If Matt Klentak is as smart as his Dartmouth education suggests, the Phillies GM was paying close attention to the reaction last month in Philadelphia to the passing of Buddy Ryan. Few sports figures who have never won anything in our city – not even a single playoff game – received a loving send-off like Ryan received.
The reason for this outpouring of affection was simple. Ryan reflected the city. He was aggressive, passionate, outspoken, and acutely aware of his unique surroundings. So far, Klentak is none of these things. So far, Matt Klentak is the anti-Buddy Ryan.
At 36, the GM offers far more intelligence than experience, but his words last week illustrated a painful lack of both. In one of his rare news briefings before the Aug. 1 trade deadline, Klentak actually said he was “taking” calls, not making them, and he “wouldn’t feel comfortable” predicting the possibility of any moves.
“I don’t feel like we have to make trades,” he said of his 45-55 team. “Sometimes when you feel compelled to make a trade, that’s when you make a bad one.”
Because Klentak has been a GM for only nine months, he is either basing this philosophy on the one deal he did make last December, or perhaps on his extensive experience in fantasy leagues.
The truth is, Klentak must make a deal – several, really. It’s just a matter of logic. He’s got a terrific pitcher, Jake Thompson, getting overripe in Lehigh because there no place for him in the Phillies rotation right now, and there’s a major logjam building at Reading, where the team has the best record in organized baseball (68-33).
If the GM does nothing, the progress of the next generation of Phillies will be delayed indefinitely; in baseball, standing pat is going backwards, especially on a team in the middle of a major rebuild.
When Matt Klentak took the job as GM last October, he accepted the responsibility to say and do things that improve both the perception of the organization and the roster itself. It is the definition of a GM, and never more so than in Philadelphia.
The clock is ticking, Matt. It’s time to steal a page from Buddy Ryan’s playbook and act like you belong here.
And finally …
• Pete Mackanin said a lot of smart things in his first full season as Phillies manager, but his comment last week that Cole Hamels is not an ace was ridiculous. Hamels is more than a No. 1 pitcher; he is the MVP of the World Series in the only championship season Philadelphia has had in 33 years. Someday, Hamels will get the respect he has earned.
• If Mackanin is seeking someone who is not an ace, he needs to look no further than Aaron Nola. The young Phillies right-hander got crushed again in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, raising his ERA to 4.75. Remember a year ago, when Nola was supposed to be taking over the No. 1 spot from Hamels? That’s not going to happen.
• All of this renewed talk of the Sixers trading Jahlil Okafor to Boston makes no sense. The top skill of their next superstar, Ben Simmons, is passing the basketball. The team’s top scorer is Okafor. If the Sixers deal the young forward, who is going to catch those passes and score?
• Chris Sale is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. He is also one of the biggest jackasses. The White Sox lefty didn’t like the throwback uniforms his team was required to wear over the weekend, so he cut them to shreds. Last spring, he didn’t want Adam LaRoche’s son hanging out in the clubhouse, triggering LaRoche’s sudden retirement. Sale may be a great player, but he’s strictly a bush leaguer in life.
• The Sporting News last week ranked Howie Roseman the worst GM in the NFL. Just one question: The Sporting News still exists?