Monday, May 24, 2010

Announcement Time

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I mentioned several weeks ago that I was going to be making some changes to the site.  My original goal for Eagles Blitz was to keep things simple.  That changed.  Readership in the last 6 months has more than tripled.  Those numbers will continue to rise.  With that in mind, I decided the site needed to look more professional.  I talked about switching to Wordpress and started doing research on HTML, PHP, and CSS.  That made May one strange month for me. 

Late last week my friend Sam sent me an email.  He knew I was making changes to the site and asked if I had any interest in joining another site.  Sam is one of the 3 guys who runs Iggles Blog.  I hadn't strongly considered anything like that recently.  I sort of enjoyed the independence of doing my own thing. 

I started to think about his idea.  I had read something at Iggles Blog recently that really stuck with me.  Derek had a blurb up about how much good Eagles coverage there is.  PE.com is the best team site in the league.  Blogs like Bleeding Green Nation, Iggles Blog, 700 Level, and so many more provide fans with independent opinions and analysis.  The Philly media does a terrific job of covering the team.  We pick on them at times for their love of controversy, but go check out how many articles are written about the Cardinals or Colts.  Those fan bases have nothing to read.  We're very lucky. 

Back to my point.  With the saturation of Eagles coverage already in place was there a good reason for me to spend time designing, working on, and expanding my blog?  I'm a football guy, not a web guy.  I started to think more about moving over to Iggles Blog. 

Derek sent me an email and made some good points.  Our sites have many of the same readers.  Both sites are somewhat unusual.  This isn't simplistic Eagles talk.  We believe in detailed analysis (some might change that phrase to long-winded analysis).  There was a lot of logic to joining forces instead of me trying to update/expand Eagles Blitz. 

I talked to Derek on the phone.  I threw about 1.4 million ideas at him.  Strangely, he didn't hang up on me.  I figure that if he can withstand that kind of barrage he might just be a good guy. 


I finally decided that the prudent move would be to go over to Iggles Blog.  We already have many of the same readers, so this will ease things on those people who had to keep up with both sites.  There are times when Derek and I write about the same things.  This will lessen the burden on us as we can now share those duties.  I have tremendous respect for Sam, BountyBowl, and Derek.  They built a quality site that provides outstanding content.  I wouldn't go over there if I didn't personally like the site. 

I will continue to post at a similar rate.  We'll work to have a post up every day this spring/summer.  Football isn't happening, but that hardly means there isn't anything worth writing about.  I will continue my "unique" writing style.  Stories will focus on the Eagles, but Buddy Ryan, Megan Fox, and Spinal Tap references will abound.  I'll answer questions in the comments section as always.  Everyone who comments here is encouraged to go over there and be an active participant. 

Feel free to ask any questions you might have.  I can't imagine there will be any serious objections, but voice them if you have them.  We are Eagles fans after all. 

The move will happen as of effective today.  I'll stop by here to read comments on this, but my future posts will be on Iggles Blog

Thank you for all your support in helping this blog to grow over the last couple of years.  I'd especially like to thank Bill C. and Adam H. for helping me when I was making plans for a new site.  Thanks guys. 


Tommy
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flexibility

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A couple of days ago a reader brought up the point of how versatile the Eagles roster is.  There really are a lot of guys who can do multiple things. 

Start with the WRs.  DeSean Jackson is a weapon, not just a WR.  He's deadly as a punt returner.  He's deadly on short passes and deep balls.  He also is so gifted as a runner that he gets mixed into the run game on a regular basis.  Jeremy Maclin showed this kind of potential in college, but we sure didn't see it last year.  Now that he's got a year under his belt I'm hoping that he's more natural as a RS and when he gets to run the ball.  Even Jason Avant is a bit unusual.  We ran a WR screen to him against the Bears.  It wasn't the usual screen.  Avant came in motion to the formation.  He blocked the DE, then released and caught the pass.  Avant ran 13 yards for a TD.  That's almost a TE kind of play.  You can't use that type of screen with just any WR. 

Brent Celek is a pure TE.  Cornelius Ingram and Clay Harbor are athletic guys who can be moved around.  Ingram can split out wide like a receiver.  He lacks ideal speed, but at times will look like a WR.  Harbor can be an H-back or FB as well as TE.  We can get very creative with how to use him, depending on his blocking skills. 

LeSean McCoy isn't Westy, but he looks like he can be an above average receiver out of the backfield.  Leonard Weaver and Charles Scott can both play RB and FB.  Weaver is a gifted receiver.  Scott doesn't have much experience, but Dave Spadaro was impressed with his hands in the recent rookie camp. 

The O-line isn't really fair to cover.  Those guys have to be versatile. 

We have a lot of versatile guys in the front seven on defense.  Juqua Parker, probably the most underrated Eagle, can play DE, LB, and has even logged snaps at DT for us.  Trent Cole can play some LB in certain sets.  I think Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham will also be guys that can move around for us.  Ricky Sapp and Alex Hall are getting looked at in multiple positions as we try to figure out where to play them.  Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will play as much at DT this year as he will at DE.  If healthy, Victor Abiamiri's main contribution will be at DT in the Nickel/Dime. 

Stewart Bradley was drafted to play SAM, but is now our MLB.  Omar Gaither has started at WLB and MLB.  Akeem Jordan is training to play at all 3 LB spots.  Moise Fokou is our SAM, but has practiced at the other spots as well.  Rookie Jamar Chaney can play MLB or WLB. 

The secondary is almost too complicated to cover.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite scenes from the show M*A*S*H.  Klinger takes a letter to Col. Blake's office to ask to go home.  His father is "dying".  Then Col. Blake pulls out Klinger's file and reads previous letters.  Each letter has a family member sick, pregnant, or dying and requests his return to help.  Then Blake pulls out his favorite letter from the file..."half the family pregnant, half the family dying."  Classic. 

Half our secondary are Safeties that can play CB.  The other half are CBs that can play Safety.  At least that is the way it feels. 

This versatility gives the coaches a lot of freedom to be creative with their schemes and gameplans.  I expect Marty Mornhinweg and Sean McDermott to be very creative this year.  You can argue whether that's a good or bad thing.  I think some people mistake complex schemes for good schemes.  Tampa won a SB with a very simple defense in 2002.  Pittsburgh won with a basic offense back in 2005.  They mixed in trick plays, sure, but it wasn't generally complicated.  The simple runs plays lulled you to sleep and allowed the tricks to be effective.  The Giants offense in 2008 wasn't exactly Martzian.  Last year the Saints ran a very complex offense and did some great things.  Their defense got complicated as needed and had some very effective gameplans. 

As the old saying goes, to thine own self be true.  Our coaches like complex concepts.  We have smart and versatile players.  That will allow the coaches to do the things they like.  Now it is up to the coaching staff to develop good ideas and teach them during the spring and summer.  Then we find out if the players can execute them during the year. 


COMPETITION

There will be some really interesting camp battles this year.   We're hearing a lot of good things about WR Riley Cooper.  WR Chad Hall is another guy of real interest.  Could they force out a veteran like Hank Baskett?  You bet. 

A few people have wondered about RB Mike Bell.  I think he'd have to really struggle in order not to make it.  Remember, the Eagles aggressively went after him.  They don't cut guys like that unless the situation clearly calls for it. 

We can sit here and predict cuts, but the reality is that we have to watch the players in action.  Jobs will be won and lost on the field.  Quintin Demps could go from zero to hero with a good showing this summer.  Trevor Laws will either earn more playing time or a pink slip based on how he plays.  Performance is the name of the game.  Juqua Parker was brought here in 2005 as a longshot free agent.  He's still here.  JP earns a roster spot every year by playing his butt off up at Lehigh.  One thing I love about the way the Eagles do business is that everyone is given a fair chance.  Sure, I'll label some guys as camp bodies.  That doesn't mean they won't be given a chance to make it.  The odds are against them (limited reps and lots of good competition), but we see guys surprise us every year by earning a roster spot or Practice Squad spot.  That's the beauty of Training Camp. 
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Trust & Some Sixers News

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Football players are liars.  At least that is true much of the time.  I love the game and I love players, but they are generally the worst source of info.  Players exaggerate, good and bad.  They tell you what they think you want to hear.  Half the time I think they are trying to convince themselves that something is true. 

I mention this in regard to things we'll hear this summer from players about where they are.  The Eagles have several guys coming off injury.  All of them are fine.  Actually, awesome.  They will all start and feel the best they ever have.  Super Bowl, here we come. 

Okay, I'm exaggerating a wee bit (I use the word wee to honor Craig Ferguson.  He now has the best sidekick in late night history - Geoff Peterson).  Some players are doing well.  It sounds like Stewart Bradley is in excellent shape and will play at a high level.  Other players I'm less certain about. 

Marlin Jackson talked to the media on Wednesday about how good he felt and how well he moved.  Les Bowen said that "He ran with a noticeable limp...".  GCobb mentioned something very similar.  Another beat writer used the words "still hobbling".  Marlin feels great that he's on the field and running around.  We can't confuse how he feels with how he looks. 

Cornelius Ingram is back.  Expect him to be a little rusty.  He tore his ACL last August.  That's plenty of recovery time, but the Eagles have moved him along slowly to make sure he heals right.  I'm sure his body will have an adjustment period as he gets re-accustomed to running around and making football moves.  Jogging is one thing.  Running a pass pattern is completely different (unless your name is Moss or Owens and you decided to take the play off).  Ingram said all the right things to PE.com, but he's nowhere close to 100%. I think he'll work into pretty good shape and I expect him to be the backup TE this year.  He still has about 8 weeks until the pads go on at Training Camp.  He'll improve quite a bit between now and then. 

Very few people in society like to be critical of themselves.  Football players are no different.  There is no game film to study so guys can say whatever they want.  Of course most will be overly positive.  I'm not trying to pick on these guys, but the reality is that you can't trust what most players say to the media, especially what players say during the spring and summer. We have to listen to and read what they say because there isn't any game action and we're all dying for any decent football talk.  Just keep in mind who the messenger is when taking in stories and interviews.  

CAMP NOTES

* Jamar Chaney got snaps at WLB.  He played there as a Sophomore so the position isn't entirely foreign to him. 

* Quintin Demps spoke to the media and said all the right things yesterday.  He got a big piece of humble pie last summer when Macho got his starting job.  Actions speak louder than words.  We need to see Q back up his talk with what he does on the field.  The fact we drafted 2 Safeties tells you that the Eagles don't fully trust him.  Q is a good KOR and still has the potential to be a starting S.  He's got to convert talent and potential into work and production.  Both Q and Max talked about their wife and family affecting their more serious approach to the game and their careers.  Let's hope that is true and both players play accordingly. 

* I mentioned yesterday that Nate Allen is fully healthy and practicing.  This really is great news.  We need him and Marlin Jackson to fight for the FS job.  Allen is the complete package, but only a rookie.  Marlin is the talented veteran, but has the bum knee(s).  I want Nate to get as many reps as possible so that he's can win the job or at least make it tough for the coaches to choose between him and Jackson.  Macho somewhat got the job by default last year.  We need someone to outright win the FS spot this time around. 


SIXERS TALK

The basketball gods are confused.  They screwed up and somehow gave the Sixers the #2 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.  This is sort of exciting, even for a passive NBA fan like myself. 

My first sports love was Dr. J.  I have been a Sixers fan since 1976 (ironically, I guess).  That was the year that Doc moved from the Nets to Philly.  Listening to Dave Zinkoff do the pre-game intro for Erving used to give me goose bumps.  Still does, actually.  The team added guys like Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, and Andrew Toney.  What wasn't to love?  Then came Moses Malone and a title.  Life was good. 

Harold Katz broke the team up quickly enough.  The Sixers managed to remain pretty good in the late 80s with Charles Barkley.  Once he was gone the team fell apart.  I kept my interest as long as I could, but football became my passion.  The team drafted Allen Iverson and things began to look up when he and Larry Brown got together.  The trip to the Finals in 2001 was magical.  I loved over-achievers like Aaron McKie and Eric Snow.  That group fell apart quickly and the team has been pretty mediocre ever since. 

I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about the Sixers.  I don't.  My love for the NBA was huge in the late 70s and early 80s.  That all went away in the age of Michael Jordan and NBA expansion.  I never liked Mike, for a variety of reasons.  The NBA watered down the product and I haven't cared a whole lot for the league in the last 25 years. 

Now the Sixers have a chance to land an impact player with the #2 pick.  That is part of the basic equation for turning a franchise around.  You must draft a stud, sign a key FA or make a trade, and add a key foreign player in order to become a top team.  The first move is getting the pick right. 

Several of you want Evan Turner, the G from Ohio State.  I watched him play a bit this year.  He can defend really well.  He looks like a solid shooter.  Good size, tough guy.  He hit some real clutch shots to win games or keep OSU in the mix.  That sounds like a pretty good prospect to me. 

I am in no way, shape, or form an NBA draft expert.  I'll defer to you guys.  Anyone here watch a bunch of OSU games this year?  What's the book on Turner?  No matter what, this is the most exciting thing to happen to the Sixers in a while.  The last entry that I know of in Great 76ers Moments was the halftime booing of Destiny's Child in the 2001 Finals. Time to replace that. 
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lots of Little Things

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The Eagles have a rookie camp going on this week.  There isn't any huge news, but here are some nuggets of possible interest:

* Macho Harris is playing CB.

* Nate Allen is playing FS and looks healthy.

* Marlin Jackson participated.  He moved well at times, but still looked tentative at other times.  (updated from earlier comment)

* Max Jean-Gillis is participating.  You may recall that he missed mini-camp while recovering from lap band surgery.  It'll be interesting to see what Max has to say.  

* LBs Moise Fokou and Joe Mays are there.  Some "young vets" are allowed in so they can get extra reps.


SPRINGS A TARGET?

The Pats cut CB Shawn Springs yesterday.  According to the Boston Herald, he failed a physical and that's why he was cut.  The Eagles need a CB and saw him plenty in his days with Washington.  Any interest?  Very doubtful.  Springs was brought in for a FA visit last year before he signed with New England.  The Eagles didn't make him an offer.  My understanding is that the Eagles were more curious than genuinely interested at that time.  After a mediocre year and failed physical it isn't likely that the team will be hot on his trail.  Some fans will wonder about passing on him, but really...is Springs a real answer or upgrade?  He used to be a terrific CB, but that a few years back.  He's now 35 years old.  You can bet that Pro Personnel Director Louis Riddick and his staff evaluated Springs this year.  If they truly feel he can help, the Eagles will go after him.  I just don't see that happening.  Springs might still be a big name, but he doesn't have the game to back it up anymore. 


OL HELP?

Tim Yotter of Vikings Update has a report up about OG Chester Pitts, who is currently rehabbing from a knee injury.  The Eagles are one of five teams to show interest in Pitts.  He played LT in college, but spent most of his time with the Texans at LG.  Solid veteran player, but nothing special.  Here's the key quote:

“I originally took three trips – Detroit, San Fran and Seattle – and they’re all actually still in the mix, and then Philly and Minnesota actually called last week and said, ‘If you’re ready on the 15th, we’re going to work you out and we have a place for you,’” Pitts told Sirius. “For me, I’m 85 percent, I’m pushing at 90 but I don’t like to say I’m at 90 because I’m not quite there yet. But I’ll be 100 percent (in) probably six weeks. So I have about a two-week cushion to get it as healthy and get as strong as I can get it.”


Pitts indicated that Seattle is probably in the lead for his services.  Interesting that the Eagles are checking him out.  With uncertainty about Max and his surgery, the Eagles would probably like to have an insurance policy in place. 


MORE CHALK TALK

Les Bowen posted some more nuggets from the recent Chalk Talk with the Eagles coaches.  Some interesting stuff. 
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Addition

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The Eagles added a rookie FA on Monday. They signed DT Boo Robinson from Wake Forest. Here is the PE.com blurb:

Robinson, a rookie free agent, was signed to a three-year deal today. The 6-1, 295-pound Robinson had 145 tackles and 12.5 sacks in his college career. A three-year starter, Robinson earned All-ACC honorable mention accolades following his junior year in 2008 after amassing six sacks.

A native of Monroe, La., Robinson was a three-year All-American scholar at Richwood HS and was a member of the National Society of High School scholars.

I watched Boo in several games this year. He didn't particularly impress me. There are reports that a back issue hindered his performance. With that in mind, I popped in a 2008 game tape to re-check him.

Boo might be the most unique DT in the draft class. He generally plays NT. He gets down in a 4-point stance. At the snap he comes off the ball, but very much under control. He uses his hands to engage the blocker and then Boo stops. He starts looking for the football and then takes off in pursuit. Essentially, it was like watching a LB play NT. Very odd. Boo has a medium athletic build. Heck, he almost looks skinny. He lacks the lower body size or power to effectively push the pocket. He does have a strong upper body and uses his hands well. He did 33 reps at his Pro Day, according to Gil Brandt's report. Boo has some quickness off the ball, but he really needs to time the snap right to be disruptive. He does play with good leverage. He has a good motor.

Boo is in no-man's land. He lacks the size to be a 2-gap player, but also lacks the athleticism to be an upfield, disruptive force. The Eagles likely were interested because of the way he uses his hands and shows potential at shedding blocks. I see him as a camp body with limited potential. I am curious to see how he fares in a more conventional style of DT play. It could be that he was miscast in the way that Wake Forest used him.


NEW COLUMN

Last week I wrote about Sean McDermott and the 3-4. I revisited that topic and expanded my thoughts for PE.com.

-Link-
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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Eagles Book Club

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Today we veer off track a little bit.  We're going to set aside the current Eagles team to talk about a book.  I'm sure most of you would love to know my thoughts on the latest Danielle Steele novel, but that will have to wait.  Instead we're talking about a brand new book called Bury Me In My Jersey:  A Memoir of My Father, Football, And Philly.  The author happens to be a friend of mine, Tom McAllister.  He is a regular poster on the Eagles Message Board.  You may know him there as swamistubbs.

Some of you may wonder why you should care about Tom's book.  Tom is a gifted writer.  I've read a couple of chapters and it is excellent.   His story involves 2 of the 3 keys to a good life - family and Eagles football (PBR is #3).  The book isn't about his take on the team, but rather what it is like to be an Eagles fan, something we can all relate to.  There are a few long distance Eagles fans who read this blog.  I'm in that category.  This book offers a glimpse into what it is like to be an Eagles fan growing up in Philly.  Color me green with envy.  Kelly green, preferably.

As for the family aspects...that is just as interesting believe it or not.  Let me tell you a quick story.  I grew up watching Mazda Sports Look with Roy Firestone on ESPN in the mid-80s. Roy is the best sports interviewer I've ever seen. I loved watching his show.  Back then we didn't have the glut of sports coverage that we do today.  Getting to hear athletes talk was special.  I absolutely loved watching Roy every chance I got. 

One day in June I turned on the show and was greatly disappointed to see that his guest for the day was his dad. Father's Day was coming up that weekend and Roy wanted to honor his father.  Boring. Who cares about Roy's dad? I wanted an interview with someone famous like Robin Yount, Reggie Theus, or Todd Christensen.  Give me any successful athlete.  I was not happy to see an episode wasted like that.

Then something funny happened.  Roy started the interview and I was blown away. Listening to father and son talk about their relationship and sports was mesmerizing. They told the greatest stories. I was only a high school kid, but learned a great lesson. People are what makes sports special. That is true of the players who play the game. The people who coach the players. The people who cover the games. The fans who watch the games.  If a good writer can combine family and football, I'm all ears. 

I conducted a Q & A with Tom so that you can find out some more about him and his book.  Here goes: 

Q:  Let's start with some basics so people can get a feel for you.  How long have you been an Eagles fan?  Who is your favorite player?

The first season I really watched was 1991, the year Bryce Paup broke Randall's leg.  I'd kind of been on the periphery during previous seasons, half-watching games with my brother and my dad, but I didn't begin to understand what was happening until '91.  That year wasn't bad, but the Randall injury made it feel like a bit of a lost cause from day one.  The '92 season, though, is still one of my favorite seasons, since that was the first time I followed a team from preseason all the way through a playoff win.  I must have watched replays of that Eagles-Saints playoff games a hundred times growing up.

Favorite players:  I've always been a defense guy when it comes to favorite players.  Seth Joyner is one of my favorites all-time.  Loved William Thomas too.  Since sometime in '04, Sheldon Brown has been my favorite Eagle; I really admired the way he carried himself on gameday, his reliability, his candidness with the media, the whole package.  Now I'd say my top two are Trent Cole and Jason Avant.  The perfect attitudes for football players.

Q:  Your book is partially about what it meant to grow up in a family of Eagles fans.  Watching games was about football, but was also a family bonding experience, whether that was good, bad, or a mixture of both.  That makes me so jealous.  I grew up in a family of non-sports fans or passive sports fans.  Watching games was and remains an afterthought. Tell us about some of the "rites" of watching Eagles games with your family.

The routine has definitely evolved over the years.  Growing up, we didn't do anything special, necessarily, but we all had our assigned seats (Dad in the recliner, me in the couch nearest him, my brother next to me, then mom next to him) and wore our Eagles gear.   But there wasn't a big production like some people do, with the home theater, the big gameday meals, and everything else.  All my dad cared about was watching the game, which meant there wasn't a lot of talking, and when we did talk, it was to analyze a play.  My dad was a very analytical guy, not prone to the kind of emotional outbursts that I am. 

Now, I watch most of the games with my in-laws, which usually means seven or eight people, great food (we're all into cooking, so there's some competitiveness with the gameday menu), and more superstitions than I can list.  Last year, my father-in-law printed up the House Rules for Eagles games, and they're on display wherever we're watching.  My favorite rule: if something good happens for the Eagles when you're out of the room, you have to stay wherever you are until something goes wrong.  Once, this led to someone sitting in the bathroom for about forty minutes, until Matt Bryant hit that 62 yard field goal. 

Q:  You have referred to yourself as "obsessed with the Eagles".  Does your family think there is something strange about how much of a fan you are?  What about your wife?  Does she embrace your love of the Eagles or is that ever a point of contention between you two?

My wife and I have been dating since freshman year of college.  Back then, we had a mutual friend whose girlfriend hated sports, to the point that the girlfriend would actively root against Philly teams because she hated him watching the games.  I made it very clear to my girlfriend/wife then that I thought that was a pretty awful way to live.  She didn't have to love football the way I did, but she had to at least understand and not try to undermine it.

Thankfully, she's a sports fan too-- baseball and football especially.  She doesn't get nearly as intense as I do, but she watches every game as closely as everyone else in the room.  She has two sports-crazy brothers, so she's had a lot of experience with the emotions of game day.  In the past, we did have a few contentious moments, when I was admittedly going overboard, spending 8-10 hours a day on the Internet looking for Eagles info, breaking my toe kicking a table after the loss to Oakland in '02, leaving drunken voicemails for Drew Rosenhaus, that kind of stuff. 

Q:  I know that I've changed quite a bit over the years.  I used to live and die with each game in a way that would dictate how I felt for the coming week.  That's not healthy, but it is how strongly I felt about the Eagles.  With time I've learned to "just relax" a bit more.  I now see the big picture and I don't get too high or too low.  Has anything like that happened with you or do you still live and die each Sunday?  Have you changed at all as a fan?

Absolutely.  I started to hint at this one in the last answer; through high school, college, and even grad school, I had a lot of moments that, in hindsight, are pretty embarrassing: self-inflicted injuries, holes in drywall, fights during games, hurling beer at an opposing fan.  Dumb stuff.  I think it would have become a big problem between me and my wife, actually, if I hadn't grown out of that a bit.  But I've become much better at managing my emotion, especially on game day.  A loss used to ruin me for an entire week; a losing streak made me unbearable.  I still hate the losing, and some things will drive me crazy during the games, but usually I'm much better at talking myself off the ledge now. 

Q:  You and I first "met" on the Eagles Message Board (EMB).  I've had a hard time getting friends and family to get beyond the notion that a message board is more than a chat room of devious freaks and/or venomous fans.  Those types are certainly present, but there are also many good fans eager for discussion and an exchange of ideas.  Have you had the same experience in terms of people wondering why you care so much about a message board?

I joined the EMB about 10 years ago on a whim, looking for rumors on free agent visits, and never had any intention of posting, let alone becoming a part of the community for a decade.  But now there are people on that board who know a lot of personal details about my life (and I know about theirs), and who have been there with me through some important years in my life-- roughly age 17 to now, when I'm 28.  I'm sure if you could track down my old posts, it would be a pretty good way to chart my maturation and personality changes over the years.   

Still, there's that old stigma about meeting people over the Internet, and I get it, to an extent; it seems unnatural, maybe.  But the EMB is a way for 100,000 like-minded people to congregate and to know that, no matter what, there are other people out there who care about the same things as you, and who understand why you feel the way you do.  There's a lot of value to something like that.  Everyone's looking for a place where they feel like they belong; for me, for a long time, the only place where I felt that was the EMB.

Q:  Let's talk about the city of Philadelphia.  Many people are shocked to learn that I'm not from Philly.  Heck, I've only visited a few times.  I have loved the little time that I have been up there.  Tell me about Philly, as you see it.

Philly is a vastly underrated city.  For much of my life, I underrated it too.  It's easy to overlook its virtues, because, for such a big city Philly can really feel like a small town.  At times, that small-town feeling can be charming, because you always feel like you know somebody, but it can also make you feel claustrophobic and the city can seem pretty small-minded when everyone gets tunnel vision.  But that's a familiarity breeding contempt kind of situation.  If you let yourself get lost in that mindset, you can miss that Philly has a great independent music scene, a thriving arts culture, a lot of excellent restaurants, and really good beer.  And don't forget that fact that it's a living, evolving museum, with some of the most important landmarks in the country's history.  

I'm gushing a bit.  Philly's been home to me for most of my life, so I'm obviously biased on this, but I do love the city, and sometimes get irrationally defensive when people point out its flaws.  The way I see it, the imperfections -- the dirty and sometimes ugly streets, the occasional overt rudeness, the weird public transportation system, the violence, etc. – make the place more authentic.  There's an honesty and a shocking earnestness about this city.  Philadelphia is a place that wants to be loved and respected, and when it gets spurned (through failed sports teams, the mocking of the media, the dismissive waves of New Yorkers, etc.) it reacts bitterly, with a gargantuan chip on its shoulder.  I can see why people would focus on the ugliness that sometimes accompanies this attitude, but I think that's what gives us our charm. 

Q:  Was there any particular moment or event that led you to write the book?  What was your inspiration?

Two things:

1. I went to grad school for creative writing in Iowa City, IA.  One of my first nights there, I met a classmate who happened to be from central NJ and was a huge Philly sports fan.  This was back in August 2004, so we spent all night drinking cheap pitchers of beer (Tommy, I know you'll like this:  $1 pitchers, any beer, just about every night in Iowa City) talking about how amazing the season was going to be, how great TO was, etc.  The next time I saw him, he gave me the book Fever Pitch, which is Nick Hornby's memoir about being an obsessed Arsenal soccer fan.  He said something along the lines of “you should read this, and you should write your own version of this about Philly and the Eagles.”  I didn't take his advice then, but he'd planted the seeds.

2. Three years later, I saw Tra Thomas buying oranges in the supermarket, and semi-stalked him through the store.  Afterward, I was thinking about how weird it was that—while I was with my wife-- I followed this football player and looked into his cart to see what he was eating, then watched him to see what his car looked like.  It seemed pathological and sad and disappointing.  My life had come to being a part-time instructor at a couple colleges, not writing anything, and stalking football players in the produce aisle-- what a letdown.  So I decided to write an essay about it.  The essay was kind of a mess, but the friend who gave me Fever Pitch read it and insisted that this was exactly what I had to be doing all along.  He isolated the parts about the EMB and Philly and my dad and showed me how I'd just laid the foundation for a memoir really exploring why I care so much about the Eagles and what being a fan means to me.


Q:  The process of writing the book must have been one heck of a trip down memory lane.  What were some of the good memories?  How about the bad?

One thing I haven't really mentioned yet is that this book, in many ways, is an elegy for my dad, who died of cancer when I was 21, and who has had an enormous influence on me.  One of our great bonds was watching and talking about football, and so this book evolved from a reflection on my obsessions, to trying to unravel the roots, meanings, and effects of those obsessions.  All of which is a long way of saying that early in the process, I realized that this book required that I really analyze my relationship with my dad, so the most interesting part of this process was digging through family stories, photos, and documents to learn more about my dad, who he was before I was born, and how other people viewed him. 

The remembering really was an act of re-learning my own history, and better understanding our relationship, so that was all very revealing and interesting and rewarding.  It's impossible to undertake a project like this and not learn about yourself.

More directly, one of the best memories: going to my first game with my brother and my Dad and seeing the Eagles dismantle the John Elway Broncos, 30-0. In piecing together the details for the book, I learned that my Dad had worked a lot of overtime to be able to afford those tickets, because I'd been begging him for months to take me to a game.

Worst: the scenes where I'm in the hospital with my dad, naively thinking he's going to get better, but everyone else around us knows he's dying.  Had I realized the gravity of the situation, I'm sure our last conversation would not have been about Jerome McDougle.

Q:  What was your families reaction to the idea of the book?  Have they read the finished product?  Any reaction from them?

My wife is very reserved, and so the whole concept of being a character in a book terrified her a little bit.  But she read it (she proofreads the final drafts of everything I write) and saw that she had nothing to worry about; no one looks better in the book than she does, and I'm the one who stars in the lowest points.  Overall, though, she was extremely supportive.  I'd gotten an MFA in creative writing, but this was the first time I wrote anything I really cared about, so she was glad to see me finally doing something, instead of just talking about how someday I'm going to be a writer. 

The rest of my family hasn't read it yet, so I'm waiting now and hoping they think I did everyone justice in there.  The whole family, though, has been amazingly supportive of the project from the day I started until now when we're in the promotional process. 

Q:  Do you consider yourself somewhat of a typical fan and thus think the book is something that the families, girlfriends, and wives of fanatical Eagles fans should read to help them understand who they are dealing with?  We Eagles fans are a strange group at times.  Some would argue 24/7/365.

If this book does nothing else, I hope it gives people an honest look at what it means to be a devoted fan.  Sometimes it's entertaining, sometimes terribly sad, sometimes joyous, and often a mixture of all three.  Writing it made me really grapple with my reasons for caring so much about the Eagles, and I hope it translates onto the page; fans should enjoy it because sometimes they might see themselves, and friends/family of fans should enjoy it because they'll get an unfiltered insight into the mind and life of someone who cares way more than he probably should about football.
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You can pre-order the book if you like.

-Link-

It is due for release on Tuesday.  Might make a good Father's Day gift. 

I have 2 requests.  First, buy a copy of Tom's book so we can show support for our fellow Eagles fan.  Second, please don't start calling me Oprah.  Unless I get her paycheck. 

Feel free to share your own stories in the comments section.  I didn't grow up in an Eagles family so all I can offer are some good sports bar tales. 
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some Saturday Scheme Talk

6 comments
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Let's talk about the 3-4 defense today.  Sean McDermott said in the Eagles Chalk Talk the other day that he may use it from time to time in 2010.  I don't recall us running a true 3-4 look at all last year.  I could be off on that, but nothing comes to mind.

People have a habit of mistaking a 3-man defensive line for a 3-4.  We use a 3-man line on a regular basis.  It is part of our Nickel and Dime packages.  The most common version is a 3-3-5 look we use.  That is 3 linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs. 

Why mix in some 3-4?  Basically, to give opposing QBs something else to have to deal with.  Throw an odd look at the QB in a key game and see if you can catch him off guard.  The Saints played a lot of 3-4 in the Super Bowl.  It didn't stop the Colts or Peyton Manning.  He still went 31-45-333.  The weird look did affect him.  He only threw one TD and the Colts only scored 17 points.  Clearly the Saints offense had a lot to do with that game because of their ability to sustain drives and keep Manning on the sideline.  Still, that defense wasn't what Peyton had planned for.  He focused on the Saints 4-3 base D.  Peyton is good enough as a QB to keep the chains moving when caught off guard, but 432 yards of offense only led to 17 points.  The 3-4 scheme had something to do with that.

Before you focus on the fact it was the 3-4 remember that the game before Peyton had shredded the Jets #1 defense and their 3-4 scheme.  He was 26-39-377 with 3 TDs and 30 points.  Peyton studied their game tape thoroughly and wasn't caught as off-guard.

The point isn't to run a 3-4 necessarily, but rather to mix up what you do.  We run a base 4-3 defense.  We do a lot of exotic stuff in Nickel and Dime packages.  The one way left for us to get creative is to adjust the base with some 3-4 looks.

How will we line up?  We can only guess at this point.  Here's a possible line-up:

RE  Brodrick Bunkley
NT  Antonio Dixon
LE  Trevor Laws
ROLB  Trent Cole
RILB  Moise Fokou
LILB  Stewart Bradley
LOLB  Juqua Parker (or Brandon Graham)

Dixon has the size and strength to be a good NT.  Bunk is athletic enough to push the pocket.  Laws played 3-4 DE as a Senior in college.  We could use Patt or Bunk at NT if wanted.  Abiamiri, if healthy, would be a good DE. 

Cole, Parker, and Graham would be the primary pass rushers.  They are athletic enough to drop back and cover as well.  You can't have the LBs rush upfield on every play.  You have to keep the QB guessing.

Bradley is clearly fine for ILB.  I put Fokou in the other spot.  I'm not sure Ernie Sims would be a good fit for ILB.  We could also put Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither, or Joe Mays in that spot. 

OFFENSE

I need to write out a long post on the new offense.  There is a lot to consider.  We know the Eagles offense of Donovan McNabb as the QB.  We've seen Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg mix things up with different QBs on the field.  The question that we face this time around is what they will do with Kevin Kolb running the show.  He's not McNabb, but he is the chosen starter.  Other QBs were on the field due to injuries.  That forced the offense to change.  With Kolb as the starting QB by design we don't know what kind of an attack we'll see.

Anyone hoping for a significant change is going to be disappointed.  Andy and Marty are passing coaches.  We have a great set of pass catchers.  We will throw the ball.  That said, I do hold some hope that we will be more balanced.  I'll get into that more in the long post.

One thing to keep in mind in regard to the upcoming season...it will be a learning experience for the players, coaches, fans, and media.  The playbook will basically be the same, but the plays that we focus on will change somewhat.  And Kolb's execution of a given play will be different from McNabb.  Think of different musicians playing a set of notes.  Each guy will put his spin on things.  The sheet music doesn't change, but the music will sure sound different. 


ANSWERS

RE:  Vick trade?

Not likely.  I"m hearing real good things about Mike.  He looks completely different than he did last season.  Spending a year as part of a football team is apparently a better way to prepare than being at a half-way house.  We do need a quality backup QB.  It sounds like Vick has that role for 2010.  It is possible to deal him and then sign a vet QB to replace him.  I'm not so sure that's likely.  I don't think any team will give up much compensation for Vick.  That could change if he looks great in the preseason, but don't count on it.  Big Red loves his QBs.  He's only going to deal Vick if someone makes us a strong offer.  I don't anticipate that happening.


RE:  3-4 NT...have to be big?

We can be creative with our 4-3 looks.  Dallas used Jay Ratliff at NT and he's nothing like most of the big guys.  We could try any number of guys.  The closest thing we have to Ratliff in terms of size, build, and skill set is probably Victor.  And he has the mentality to be solid at NT for a limited amount of snaps per game.

I'm hearing that Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will play mostly DT this year in the Nickel and Dime.  He also could maybe get NT snaps in certain looks.  Teo certainly has the toughness and motor to hand the job.  I know some of you will focus on the lack of size.  When you mix in a special defensive package you don't need players with  standard size and a normal skill set.  After all, your goal is usually to do something different.  Remember, we're talking about mixing in some 3-4.  Could be 2 or 3 snaps or maybe 15-20.  This isn't the base defense that will be on the field for 30-40 snaps.
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