On the Brink of History: Serena Williams Has Grand Slam in Her Sights at the U.S. Open

29 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis's Grand Slam.  She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

Serena Williams is one U.S. Open win  from tennis’s Grand Slam. She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

If you want to see someone attempt to accomplish a pretty major athletic milestone, might I suggest that you walk away from that National Football League preseason game and focus your attention on Flushing Meadows, New York?
You see, Serena Williams will be on the court attempting to make history, and you don’t want to miss it.

With the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon titles already in hand, Williams has her sights set on becoming the first tennis player since Steffi Graf to win all four of tennis’s Grand Slam titles in the same season by winning the U.S. Open. She’s already made history this year by being the oldest female tennis player to win a Grand Slam event at the ripe “old” age of 33.

Suffice it to say, Williams is looking forward to coming to New York and the adventure of adding another chapter to her brilliant legacy as the one of the best women’s tennis players of all-time.

“Yeah, I’m ready. I don’t care if I win or lose or break even,” she said. “I’m ready to start it, get it over with, and be done and go on to the next event. But I’m so ready for New York. Let’s go, right?”

Dating back to the 2014 U.S. Open, Williams has won the last four Grand-Slam events. If she does win the U.S. Open, it will be her 22nd major title, which would tie her with Graf for the most major titles since the Open Era began in 1968. Margaret Court holds the all-time record for Grand Slam titles with 24.

Williams will be getting everybody’s best shot as she has during her last three Grand Slam events. In the third round at Wimbledon, Britain’s Heather Watson had her at match point in the third set, but Williams rallied to win. In the quarterfinals, Williams dropped the first set against Victoria Azarenka, but then came back to win the next two sets.

At the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month, Williams suffered her second loss of 2015 against Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic in the semifinals of that tournament. She had won 14 matches in a row before that match.

But as is her fashion, Williams bounced back from that defeat two weeks later to win the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, a key U.S. Open tune-up. While the pressure to win the U.S. Open is especially intense with the Grand Slam on the line, it’s something Williams embraces.

“I’ve decided I prefer to have that pressure than the pressure of not winning,” Williams said. “Not everyone can handle that pressure, but I’m okay with it. I would rather be to this position than another one.”

Throughout all her Grand-Slam matches, Williams has been dominant at times and quite vulnerable at others. She seems to have developed an ability to focus even harder when she is staring defeat in the face.

Williams reminds me of some of those great boxers who seem to find a deeper resolve once they’ve been hit or knocked down. Cats like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and others who seem to be at their best when things look the worse.
“Yeah, in the end it’s pretty tough to play against Serena. She’s more motivated I think,” said Simona Halep, who lost to Williams in the finals of Western and Southern Tournament. “More focused and into the tournament. Yeah, she feels the game and she feels everything and she gets more stronger.”
Williams’ run to the Grand Slam hasn’t been easy, which is why it’s been so interesting to watch. Williams’ matches have probably had more twists and turns than an episode of “Scandal”. To tell you the truth, I don’t think Shonda Rhimes could craft a script with this many twists and turns in it.
No matter how she gets it done, Williams has developed a mentality made famous by late Oakland Raiders Al Davis… Just win baby.
‘It’s all up to me. If I decide to play right, it’ll be great,” she said.

Eagles Rookie Wide Receiver Nelson Agholor Getting Rave Reviews After Preseason Debut

19 Aug

Originally posted on The Chris Murray Report:

By Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report 

and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun 

Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass.  Photo courtesy of NFL.com Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass. Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Although he has yet to play a regular season game in the National Football League , Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor has impressed his coaches and his teammates with his work ethic, his speed and his ability to catch the football throughout organized team activities in the spring and training camp in August.

“You talk about going straight forward, that boy Nelson just goes from zero to 100,” said teammate and fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews. “I’ve just seen it day in and day out. They talk about explosive efforts every day in practice, that cat has them. You turn on the film; he’s out on every single catch.”

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Eagles Rookie Wide Receiver Nelson Agholor Getting Rave Reviews After Preseason Debut

19 Aug

By Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report 

and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun 

Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass.  Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor gave up Eagles a glimpse of what he can do with a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass. Photo courtesy of NFL.com

Although he has yet to play a regular season game in the National Football League , Philadelphia Eagles rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor has impressed his coaches and his teammates with his work ethic, his speed and his ability to catch the football throughout organized team activities in the spring and training camp in August.

“You talk about going straight forward, that boy Nelson just goes from zero to 100,” said teammate and fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews. “I’ve just seen it day in and day out. They talk about explosive efforts every day in practice, that cat has them. You turn on the film; he’s out on every single catch.”

As the Birds first round draft choice, Agholor has a lot of work ahead of him and is going to go through the ups and downs of being a rookie. That said, the former University of Southern California star gave Eagles fans a glimpse of the upside of his potential.

In the Eagles 36-10 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, Agholor caught five passes for 57 yards including a spectacular 34-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that thrilled the Eagles faithful at Lincoln Financial Field.

On his touchdown, Agholor hauled in a short, overthrown hitch pass from Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez and just sped past defenders for a touchdown.

“When I caught the ball and I wanted to finish,” Agholor said. “Every day in practice we try to finish to two lines and that was the objective and I wanted to turn it into more.”

If there’s one thing that has stood out about Agholor from the time he was drafted to his first preseason game on Sunday, it’s that he  doesn’t go around tooting his own horn, at least not yet.  He’s the first to acknowledge his own mistakes. He had a couple of drops that cost the Eagles a couple of third down conversions.

“I need to work on just finding the ball and not looking at who’s throwing the ball,” Agholor said.  “I think my eyes went to the quarterback.  At the end of the day, I like the fact that it happened today.  It’s a good thing to learn from.”

During his career at USC, the 6’1”, 190-pound Agholor played in a variety spots at the wide receiver position at both the slot and as an outside receiver.   He put up numbers no matter where he played, especially in his final season with the Trojans. Agholor caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said the thing he liked about Agholor when he was at USC was his ability to run after the catch.  The touchdown that Agholor scored Sunday against the Colts was a classic example of why the Eagles drafted him.

“Yeah, I mean the one thing with Nelson is when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s real explosive,” Kelly said.  “So, you’re anticipating run after the catch with him.  He did that a ton in college.”

Agholor is also showing that as a rookie that’s important for him to be a student of the game and that each situation, whether it’s practice, the film room or a live game, every situation is an opportunity for him to make his game better.

“That’s what you do every day on the practice field, too,” Agholor said. “You have meetings that carry over from previous days; you just go out there and perform what you’re coached up to do. And that’s all (Sunday) was.  It was an extended practice for a lot of us.”

If Agholor wins the starter’s job as a starting wide receiver, the Birds are going to have a pretty decent group of receiver when you throw Matthews, Miles Austin, Josh Huff and Riley Cooper into the mix.

Stop Telling Athletes to Just Shut Up and Play

13 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

cardaleJones

A fan on Twitter chided Ohio State quarterback for expressing his views on the Black Lives Matter Movement.

PHILADELPHIA—Last month, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones took to Twitter to express his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement and was met with the typical response from fans that African American athletes get whenever they speak on social justice issues.  

Jones tweeted: “#AllLivesMatter why is that the only ones getting beaten, killed when unarmed, & mysteriously dien in custody African-American …You tell me that #AllLivesMatter well I say how do you define “All”?

An Ohio State fan responded with: “Worry about getting us fans another championship …Stay out of this bulls—.”    

Jones shot back at the fan with a Tweet steeped in sarcasm: “Sorry Mr. master, I aints allow to tweet nothing but foolsbaall stuff I donts want you think I more than a foots ball playa sir.”

The fan then apologized to Jones and later shut his Twitter site down.

Last week, I wrote about the complaints that several former Philadelphia Eagles players have leveled about ill treatment at the hands of head coach Chip Kelly, some of which has accused the former Oregon coach of racism. In a recent story on the Bleacher Report website, a pair of unnamed Eagles said that it wasn’t racism, but Kelly’s need to have total, dictatorial control of his team.

Like it or not, some veteran ball players aren’t going to take too well to that kind of coaching and some like former Eagle Brandon Boykin are going to complain about it, possibly in front of a live microphone.

Now whether or not I agree with the athlete isn’t the point. His right to be honest and have his own opinions is. While I have no problem debating the veracity or even the credibility of an athlete’s point of view, it bothers me when fans and media people tell athletes, especially African-American athletes, to just “shut up and play.”

For example, you might have thought that former Eagle Cary Williams’s complaints about Kelly’s hard practices causing team burnout late in the season may have been a little ridiculous considering some of the completions he gave up in some of those games, but I appreciated the man’s honesty.

And it’s hard to take reporters seriously when they complain about clichéd responses from athletes when sincere, heartfelt answers that challenge whatever the prevailing narrative is at the moment also bring scorn.  

Of course, the first response that seems to come from social media or sports talk radio when professional athletes speak their minds is that they have no right to complain because of the millions of dollars they make. It’s as if money is supposed to suppress your right to express yourself.

You’re supposed to turn a blind eye to injustice just because you’re rich. Your financial security means that you can’t protest your work conditions the way Curt Flood did in refusing to be traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, the move that eventually led to free agency in Major League Baseball.

Being a Black man of means doesn’t mean that you won’t still have problems getting a cab in New York or Boston. It also doesn’t mean that you won’t get pulled over by the cops for no reason other than the color of your skin like any other Black person in America.

For African-American athletes there’s a perception that they should be grateful for making the millions they make and shouldn’t rock the boat by daring to make a statement about something that impacts everyone, including them. While there is a certain amount of gratitude that these athletes probably have for their God-given abilities, they’re in the NFL because of that ability and their hard work. It’s something they’ve earned…and they shouldn’t be expected to give up their First Amendment rights in order to enjoy it.

What’s really ironic about all this is that I’ve heard those complaints in blue-collar, union towns like Philly, Baltimore, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

Seems to me that you folks need a little bit of a history lesson, so let me help you out.

Were it not for people like Walter P. Reuther (United Auto Workers), A. Philip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), and Cesar Chavez (United Farm Workers), people who refused to just “shut up and work” and rocked the boat instead, that 40-hour work week, with the living wage, the paid sick and vacation days and the healthcare plan that so many of you union workers enjoy wouldn’t exist.

Might want to remember that the next time you want to shut down your favorite athlete on Twitter.

 

 

 

Chip Kelly Needs to Address How He Relates to His Players

11 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has been accused of racism and being a control freak who does not tolerate dissent. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has been accused of racism and being a control freak who does not tolerate dissent. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—By now you all have heard about Brandon Boykin’s remarks regarding Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft pick.

What raised eyebrows was a text sent by Boykin to Comcast Sports Net that said Kelly is “uncomfortable around men of our culture.”

It was originally interpreted as Kelly having a problem with African-American players and was viewed in the same was as similar accusations from former Eagles players LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and former assistant coach Tra Thomas.

A day later, Boykin clarified his remarks saying he wasn’t calling Kelly a racist, but that he has a hard time relating to players.

“He likes total control of everything, and he don’t like to be uncomfortable,” Boykin told Comcast Sports Net. “Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn’t been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me.”

A recent story by the Bleacher Reports’ Mike Freeman confirms what Boykin was saying about Kelly’s need to have total control over everything.

While Boykin shed further light on what he meant, the perception that Kelly has a problem with African-American players lingers on with more than a few African-Americans fans. On some level it’s understandable, especially from those fans who are still upset over the incident in which wide receiver Riley Cooper dropped a fair amount of N-Bombs at a Country Music concert.

As Black men, society often views us with suspicion, especially if we are seen as outspoken or show any form of anger. Even the most liberal of white people and among African Americans themselves, that perception exists.

That said, I don’t think that either Kelly or the Eagles as an organization are racists.

However, I do think that Kelly is trying to make the Eagles into his image from a football standpoint, and that has led to the clashes he’s had with veteran players. For example, two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, who is white, was let go after he started demanding more money.

As for the decision to trade Boykin, it was logical given Kelly’s mantra that says big people beat little people. As good as Boykin as a cornerback in nickel (five defensive backs) situation, he simply did not fit into what Kelly wanted for his defense. Boykin is listed at about 5-foot-9, maybe 5-8.

In the wake of these allegations from his former players, Kelly needs to have a sit-down with not only his Black players, but his entire team just to let them that he’s accessible. One of the complaints that Boykin made was that Kelly couldn’t relate to players outside of football.

Kelly said that he has an open-door policy with his players, but the workday is very structured during the offseason and during the season.

“You can come to talk to me whenever you want to come and talk to me,” Kelly said earlier this week. “But we also have a pretty structured day where guys are in meetings. I don’t just sit and walk around and say, let me go grab him and let’s sit down and have a coffee together. When they get here, they are doing stuff.”

At some point, Kelly is going to have to take a look at how he relates to players, who are grown men and not college kids whose scholarships you can yank if they don’t fit in with your program.

If the Eagles are winning on a consistent basis because of Kelly’s moves, all of this will be forgotten. But if wins don’t result from all of these moves, you’ll hear more noise about Kelly’s relationship with his players.
If that happens, Kelly will be the one having to find a new relationship.

Eagles 2015 Training Camp Preview: Several Unanswered Questions

2 Aug

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles running back Darren Sproles ability to make plays in space makes the Eagles an exciting offense.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back Darren Sproles ability to make plays in space makes the Eagles an exciting offense. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –With the Phillies playing out a bad season, sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love are now focused on the only team that has a chance to have a winning season and make a run to the postseason.

As Philadelphia Eagles training camp approaches, fans have a lot to be excited about and also a lot of reasons to be concerned. The Birds situation is arguably better than that of the city’s other three teams because despite all of the changes, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel.

One thing that Eagles fans have to feel good about is that DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, will be their starting running back. They will also have good change of pace backs in Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still a whole lot of question marks on the offense. After cutting offensive linemen Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, the Birds are hoping that Allen Barbre (6-4, 310 pounds), likely the new left guard, and Matt Tobin (6-6, 290), whose expected to win the starting job at right guard, will be upgrades at these positions.

The team also signed John Moffitt (6-4, 319) last month. Moffitt, who took a year away from football to deal with substance abuse issues, gives Eagles some much need depth along the offensive line in case someone gets hurt. The way things have gone for the Eagles in terms of injuries last year that might be important. Dennis Kelly (6-8, 321), Andrew Gardner (6-6, 308) and Kevin Graf (6-6, 309) also have to be ready to go are among the guys that need to be ready even if you have injuries to the starters.

Having a solid offensive line is crucial because the Eagles have to protect starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who hasn’t played a full season since 2012. If he can survive the season, fans will definitely be optimistic. But if Bradford gets hurt, can head coach Chip Kelly or the fan base stomach the idea of the mistake-prone Mark Sanchez running the Eagles offense for a sustained period of time?

Among the Eagles wide receiver corps, will second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews become the go-to-guy in the passing game? Will rookie Nelson Agholor, with his 4.4 speed, be able to find his way on the field and be an important part of the Eagles passing game? It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

On defense, the Eagles will have a solid front-seven that includes linebackers DeMeco Ryans and newly acquired inside linebacker Kiko Alonso. This could also be a breakout season for defensive end Fletcher Cox, who is coming off a 2014 season in which he had a career-high in tackles with 70 (59 solo) and four sacks.

The sticking point for the Eagles defense coming into the 2015 season is the secondary, which got torched quite often late in the season. The inability of the Birds secondary to keep opposing receivers from piling up yards and lighting up the scoreboard kept them out of the playoffs despite a 10-6 record.

The Eagles ranked 31st in net passing yards per game in 2014 and the most touchdowns of 20 yards or more and the only holdover from that unit is safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The Birds got former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell, who played well during the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run. But there’s uncertainty about Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe, the other two guys vying for cornerback spots. Carroll is a pro that couldn’t get much playing time in the other places he’s played and Rowe is a second-round draft pick who hasn’t played a down as a pro.

Meanwhile at the other safety spot, Kelly is counting on former Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond. Thurmond is a converted cornerback who has never played at the safety spot and has been injury-prone throughout his five-year career.

If the Eagles fail to shore up this part of their defense, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson and Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant could be licking their chops.

Eagles Training Camp 2015: Who Will be the Birds Next Go-to Receiver?

25 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles wide receiver  Jordan Matthews had a big game as a rookie against Washington last season. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Will he be the go-to guy in 2015? Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews had a big game as a rookie against Washington last season. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Will he be the go-to guy in 2015? Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When Jeremy Maclin, the Philadelphia Eagles best receiver in 2014, signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, Birds fans have been wondering who’s going to be the guy that replaces his numbers in the offense.
That will be one of the things to watch when Eagles training camp opens on August 1 at the team’s NovaCare facility in South Philadelphia.

Last season, Maclin had 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns, not bad for a guy who didn’t have the game-breaking speed of a DeSean Jackson.

The best returning receiver on the Eagles right now is second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who had a solid rookie season. Last season, the former Vanderbilt star caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Matthews was the Eagles second-leading receiver in 2014.

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Matthews picked up most of his catches from playing inside the slot where he used to his height to his advantage. Throughout minicamp, he was still lining up at the slot. But I think he has the ability to play on the outside as well.

Matthews said it doesn’t matter where they line him up, he’ll go out and do his job.

“Of course, I’m getting some reps out there, but it’s still receiver,” Matthews said during the Eagles spring organized team activities. “Our offense is so dynamic that you can’t put too much weight on who’s outside or who’s inside…who’s No. 1 or No. 2. I think that’s stuff is really irrelevant.

”We have a dynamic offense. We have a lot of weapons, I’m getting some outside work, but we’re trying to put a product on the field that’s going to win.”

While not necessarily that homerun hitter on the deep ball, Matthews can be that go-to receiver in third down situations, something the Eagles haven’t had since Terrell Owens. Not to suggest that Matthews is on par with Owens when he was in his prime just yet, but I can see him lining up in the slot or on the outside.

Meanwhile, the guy that could fill the role of a deep threat is rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor. While the former USC star has yet to catch a pass in an NFL game, the Eagles No. 1 draft choice does come with some impressive collegiate credentials.

The 6-1, 190-pound Agholor ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, which is by no means slow. During his final year at USC, Agholor caught 104 passes, 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 101 yards per game. He can go deep and he can run solid routes.

Like Matthews, Agholor can run routes from the slot or from the outside receiver spots as did during his days at USC. During his freshman year at USC, Agholor was averaging a over 17 yards per catch, but during his final year with the Trojans he averaged a little over 12 yards per catch.

“During my freshman and sophomore year my yards per catch were great,” Agholor said. “All I wanted to do was move the chains and play the game right way.”

Everyone in the Eagles receiving corps—young or old will definitely learn from the wisdom of former Dallas Cowboys/ Cleveland Browns wide receiver Miles Austin.

In Cleveland last season, Austin played for a Browns squad that had instability at the quarterback spot, yet still managed to catch 47 passes for 568 yards with two touchdowns.

Second-year wide receiver Josh Huff, who showed brilliant flashes of brilliance as a kick returner, is also looking to get some reps in the passing the game. Huff has the speed to move all over the place and he’s a good blocker in the run game.

The odd man out among the veterans in this offense is Riley Cooper. Last season, Cooper did not have a good year, Cooper who saw his numbers drop in receiving yardage, average yards per catch and touchdowns.If Huff or one of the younger players has an outstanding camp, Cooper may not survive the summer.

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