A Heroes’ Welcome Home for Taney Dragons by the City of Brotherly Love

29 Aug

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons  and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

Thousands of Philadelphia sports fans gathered near the Kimmell Center to welcome home the Taney Dragons and hear the Philadelphia POPs Orchestra salute to the team for their successful run to the Little League World Series. Photo by Chris Murray.

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

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park before Wednesday's game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

After the Parade down Broad Street, the Taney Dragons were honored by Ryan Howard and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizen’s Bank Park before Wednesday’s game against the Washington Nationals. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA –A lot of people who would normally be hard at work in their Center City offices were instead gathered on the streets of Philadelphia in support of the Taney Dragons Little League team as part of a parade honoring the Mid-Atlantic Little League champions Wednesday.

Waving signs that said, “We Love Taney,” “We’re on the Dragon Wagon,” and “Let’s Go Taney,” a crowd of thousands took part in the parade, which also featured performances by the Philly POPS orchestra in front of the Kimmel Center and the Mummers at Broad and Washington.

In the midst of a tumultuous summer on the streets of Philly and around the world, the Dragons, a multi-ethnic team of 12 and 13-year-olds, gave everyone something to smile about during their Little League World Series run in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, said Mayor Michael Nutter.

“We’ve had a number of tragedies this summer just in Philadelphia involving children, very tragic situations, so we mourn all of those losses and it really hurts our heart when bad things have happened to our children,” said Nutter said. “To have a few weeks, a month or so of this kind of incredible joy around children just playing a game, just having a good time, I think it was really exciting for the whole city and people responded.”

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo'ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen's Bank Park.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Taney Dragons pitcher Mo’ne Davis and her teammates took a victory lap around Citizen’s Bank Park. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Taney Dragons were one of two inner city teams to play in the LLWS, and the first from Philadelphia. They, and the U.S. Champion Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago, became favorites of fans around the country and garnered a lot of media attention in the process.
Taney manager Alex Rice applauded his kids for how they’ve handled it.

“It was an honor to be associated with this team for the past two months,” Rice said. “They’re talented, wonderful, high character, smart, funny wonderful kids. They played terrific baseball.”

Though the Taney Dragons finished third, they received a heroes’ welcome from a grateful hometown on Wednesday in a parade that went from downtown to Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in South Philadelphia.

“The parade was awesome,” said Taney Dragons slugging outfielder Zion Spearman. “I wish we had another one, but this was awesome. I think it was nice seeing all the people. It was fun. It was pretty good because it was, I don’t know, exciting.”

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

Taney Dragons second baseman Jahli Hendricks looks out into the crowd during the parade down Broad Street. Photo by Chris Murray.

After marching down Broad Street, Mayor Nutter and Second District City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson honored the team with a proclamation and announced plans provide more resources to recreation programs in the city and repair the city’s baseball fields.

Later in the day, the team went to Citizens Bank Park where the Philadelphia Phillies honored them and let entire team threw the ceremonial first pitch. They also got some encouragement from Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who spent time with them in Williamsport.

“This is the epitome of Philadelphia right here,” Howard said during the ceremony. “I felt like a little kid when I was hanging out with these guys. They were full of life and full of energy and just plain fun.”

For the kids, it has been a whirlwind last couple of weeks with games and celebrations. This is especially true for 13-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis, who thrilled fans and dazzled with her 70-mile per hour fast ball and became the darling of the Little League World Series.

Davis was the toast of the morning TV talk shows including ABC’s Good Morning and became the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. By the time the parade ended, a visibly-tired Davis talked to reporters about the run through the Little World Series.

“It’s been half and half. I like it sometimes, but most of the time I don’t. I’m looking forward to school,” Davis said. “What sticks out to me is being on (the cover) of Sports Illustrated, throwing my shutout and making it to Williamsport. … It was very cool.”

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

Taney Dragons manager Alex Rice fields questions from reporters with his team gathered around him after the Phillies tribute to his team. Photo by Webster Riddick

The solid of performance of both the Taney Dragons and the all-Black U.S. champion Chicago Jackie Robinson West squad marked the comeback of urban baseball. The Taney Dragons squad was a multi-ethnic squad that looked more like America.

“I ran with my kids from Philadelphia, they were a perfect cross section of Philadelphia and I was thrilled with ther talent that made the team and I loved them,”  Rice said.

Eagles Moving Closer to Being Ready for the Regular Season

24 Aug

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

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy scores on a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Foles. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Perhaps the biggest questions for the Eagles coming into the 2014 season is how much has their defense improved and can the offense put up even bigger numbers than they did last season?

On the defensive side of the ball, the answer  has come with some uncertainty throughout the preseason. Last week against the New England Patriots, the Birds starters and reserves got pushed up and down the field for over 400 yards of offense.

The Eagles starters on defense got a better sense of themselves in the Birds 31-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial  in the pivotal third preseason game, considered to be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday's preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole go after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Thursday’s preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Birds held Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense to 94 yards in the first half before letting the second team take over late in the first half. It was a good bounce-back from their performance against the Patriots.

What impressed defensive coordinator Bill Davis was the way his team got off the field on third down situations, something they didn’t do against the Patriots. The Eagles starters were 3-of-7 in stopping third down conversions.

“It was real nice and we know third downs are a point of emphasis for us,” Davis said. “It hasn’t been good enough, we moved forward. … We have to do better than we did tonight, but I did like the way it got better.”

With the season-opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars (Sept. 7) on the horizon, the defense still has a lot of work to do to be ready for the regular season.

“Personally, you should never be satisfied,” said Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. “We have room to improve. I think we’re ready, but there’s always room to improve. While we’re on the right road and everything’s in the right direction and looking good out there, now we can improve on the positive things that we took from this game and improve all week.”

The only disclaimer to the Eagles improved play on defense is that they were facing a bad Steelers offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

Roethlisberger was out of sync with his receivers and they just couldn’t establish any kind of rhythm offensively.  Quite frankly, the Steelers were just awful on offense and didn’t get on the scoreboard until the second half when the Eagles second team took the field.
If there’s a unit that is ready to start the season, it’s the Eagles offense. During their stint on the field in the first half, the Birds first-team offense rolled out to a 17-0 halftime lead on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to LeSean McCoy, a one-yard run from running back Darren Sproles and a 36-yard field goal by Alex Henery.

With the preseason behind the first-team starters on offense, the Birds seem to be pleased with the progress they’ve made from the first preseason game against the Chicago Bears.

“I feel like we’ve improved as a unit and as a team,” said Foles, who completed 19-of-29 passes for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “There are a lot of corrections to make from this game, but I feel like we out there and got in a rhythm faster and started moving the football. “

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin grabs his right knee in pain after his foot apparently got stuck in the turf. He was not seriously injured. Photo by Webster Riddick.

The one thing the Eagles will have when they open the season is their starting wide receivers—Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

Things got scary midway through the first half when Maclin’s right knee buckled into the Lincoln Financial Field turf. The crowd held its collective breath with Maclin writhing in pain from the same knee that put him on the injured reserve list last season.

After returning to the sideline, Maclin started running like normal and eventually got back out on the field. But he admitted that he got a little worried.

“Absolutely, it is something that brought back flashbacks,” said Maclin, who caught six passes 43 yards. “When I got up and could walk when the initial shock went away. I was pretty good.”

The Eagles have one last preseason game next Thursday (Aug.28) against the New York Jets at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be played by second and third string guys still trying to make the team.

Notes- On Saturday, the Eagles cut 14 players. All NFL teams must cut down their rosters to 75 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Eagles roster currently stands at 76. Here are the players who were released:
TE Blake Annen
OL Michael Bamiro
OL Karim Barton
WR Kadron Boone
WR B.J. Cunningham
OL Donald Hawkins
TE Emil Igwenagu
LB Jake Knott
DE Joe Kruger
S Daytawion Lowe
DE Frances Mays
S Davon Morgan
K Carey Spear
DE Alejandro Villanueva

Mo’ne Davis and Chicago Jackie Robinson West Will Hopefully Rejuvenate Interest in Baseball Among African-Americans

22 Aug

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

Mo'ne Davis' 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

Mo’ne Davis’ 70 mile-per-hour fast ball led the Taney Dragons of South Philadelphia to the Little League World Series.

PHILADELPHIA—In 2005, I did a series of stories for the Philadelphia Tribune on the declining number of African-Americans in Major League Baseball.

One of the people I interviewed for the story was Negro League legend Buck O’Neill, former manager of the Kansas City Monarchs. As we talked about how to turn the tide, O’Neill said that programs like the Reviving Baseball in the Inner City, or RBI, would help because he was convinced that once Black kids started playing baseball, they’d grow to love it.

That two of the remaining teams in the Little League World Series–Philadelphia’s own Taney Dragons and the Jackie Robinson West team from Chicago—are teams that feature Black kids proves that O’Neill might have been on to something.

The Chicago Jackie Robinson West representing the Great Lakes Region will take on Nevada for the U.S. Championship on Saturday.

The Chicago Jackie Robinson West representing the Great Lakes Region will take on Nevada for the U.S. Championship on Saturday.

Somewhere in the heavens, the performances of the all-Black Jackie Robinson West team and Taney pitcher Mo’ne Davis are making O’Neill smile. Both teams have been the talk of the summer classic of the country’s best 12 and 13-year-old baseball players held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

As her team’s best player and pitcher, Mo’ne is giving new meaning to the phrase “throws like a girl”. With a 70 mile-per-hour fast ball, the 5-foot-4, 13-year-old pitcher has been mowing down her competition.

Mo’ne has led the South-Philadelphia based Taney Dragons, the first team from the city to make it to the LLWS, to a 2-2 record in the Little League World Series before they were eliminated by the Jackie Robinson West Squad from Chicago on Thursday.

As the first girl to throw a shutout in a Little League World Series game, Mo’ne is the first Little Leaguer and the youngest athlete to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She gave up three runs and struck out six in three innings of work in Taney’s 8-1 loss to Nevada on Wednesday.

(Which might also make her the youngest victim of the dreaded SI jinx, but we’re not going to talk about that…)

The success of Mo’ne and the Dragons has had fans from around the country glued to their TV sets. Folks ranging from First Lady Michelle Obama to NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson have praised the female hurler and WNBA star Britney Griner is looking for Mo’ne’s jersey.

(I wish you luck on that one, Britney. They’re selling like hotcakes!)

But while Mo’ne Davis is making young girls practice their curveball grip, Taney’s just one of the LLWS’s big urban baseball stories. The kids from the all-Black Chicago Jackie Robinson West team are also making history.

Jackie Robinson West is the second team from Little League Baseball’s Urban Initiative to make it to Williamsport. The champs of the Great Lakes Region will have taken on Taney for the right to face Nevada in the U.S. Championship game.

Coming from an urban center known for its crime, violence and poverty, the kids from Jackie Robinson West have been a breath of fresh air to a city where hope oftentimes doesn’t exist.

It’s also a team that knows how to bounce back from adversity. After a 13-2 loss to Nevada in a game that was called after four innings due to the Mercy rule, the kids from the Southside of Chicago found themselves on the short end of a 7-6 deficit against the team from Cumberland, Rhode Island coming into the fifth inning.

But the hard-hitting team from Chicago rallied to score two runs to take the lead and thanks to some outstanding relief pitching held on to win 8-7. After wins over Pearland, Texas and a close 6-5 win over the Taney Dragons, they will have a rematch against that unbeaten Nevada squad for the U.S. Championship.

The winner of that game will face the winner of the International Championship game between South Korea and Japan.

At a time when costs for the game including gloves, bats and other equipment run into the thousands, watching the performances of the Taney Dragons and Jackie Robinson West have taken the edge off of a summer where violence and racial tensions have been far too prominent.

I don’t know if seeing these two groups of kids playing in Williamsport will spark a renaissance of urban baseball that will bring the percentage of American-born Black players in the major leagues up its current 8 percent, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s certainly enough to bring a smile to the faces of Buck O’Neill, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson and the rest of Black Baseball’s ancestors.

Eagles Defense Needs to Improve the Pass Rush

17 Aug

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

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven't done so far this preseason.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven’t done so far this preseason. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Eagles third preseason game this Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the horizon, there are some things from last Friday’s exhibition game they need to fix coming into what will be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Of course, the big worry for the Eagles has to be their defense, which did not play well in the 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Birds starters and backups collectively gave up 476 yards of offense.

The only bright spot from the defense in that game was Cary Williams 77-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Patriots first series of possession. Williams wound up pulling his hamstring on the play and did not play the rest of the game. Even with the pick-six, the Patriots had driven through 50 yards through the Eagles defense without much resistance.

“We need to generate a better pass rush,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “I think our defensive line has to do a better job in terms of what their rush contains are. We had that one play with (Ryan) Mallet where Marcus (Smith) does a nice job of making him flush up in the pocket, but we got nobody on that side containing the quarterback and we let the quarterback scramble in for a touchdown.”

The Eagles first-team defense, which ranked 32nd in pass defense in 2013, didn’t get any pressure on Tom Brady. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 81 yards with one touchdown and an interception. After Brady’s early pick-six, New England got touchdown passes on their next three possessions— one from Brady and two from backup Jimmy Garoppollo.

Backup cornerback Curtis Marsh got torched for three of the Patriots four touchdown passes. The defense got just two sacks from their backups—linebacker Brandon Graham and rookie defensive end Alejandro Villanueva.

“We use a lot of different combinations and we try to get some guys in with the ones to see them work around,” Kelly said. “We had a lot of different rotations going on just to see if we can get some guys evaluated on film. We do need to generate a pass rush, especially if you’re going to play somebody the caliber of Tom (Brady).”

For all the talk of the improvement of the Eagles defense, they took a step backwards last Friday. Granted, it’s only the second game of the preseason and defensive coordinator Bill Davis might have been trying different personnel groups.

The good news for the Birds is they will have at least the first half and a third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Steelers to fix the deficiencies on defense. They better do it quick.

On offense, Nick Foles found his rhythm and showed flashes of 2013 with his performance in the first half. He was of 8-of-10 for 81 yards with one touchdown, one fumble and no interceptions after throwing two last week against Chicago.

In fact, all three Eagles quarterbacks performed well during their stints against the Patriots. Mark Sanchez is showing that he will be a capable backup if Foles gets hurt. Against New England, Sanchez is 11-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Third-string quarterback Matt Barkley also played well, completing 9-of-12 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown pass and one interception.

With both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper sitting on the sideline with injuries, the Eagles got a good look at six-foot-seven Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Jordan Matthews , who struggled last week a pair of drops.

Suffice it to say, Momah had a tough night in New England. He had two fumbles and three drops. Oddly enough, one of Momah’s drops inadvertently led to an Eagles touchdown late in the first half when the ball caromed off his hands and into the clutches of Arrelious Benn. He had three catches for 28 yards.

Meanwhile, Matthews made a strong case for him to be included with the first stringers with his performance Friday. He caught nine passes for 104 yards. After the game, the former Vanderbilt star said he still has a lot of work to get better.

“I want to always keep that mindset and just go out there and make plays,” Matthews said. “I just continue to slow the game down in my head and make it feel more like practice. I feel like I did some good things, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

Can Bernard Hopkins Stop Hard-Hitting Sergey Kovalev?

7 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Bernard Hopkins will take on unbeaten Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight unification bout sometime in November. Photo by Chris Murray.

Bernard Hopkins will take on unbeaten Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight unification bout sometime in November. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—For his latest age-defying act against “Father Time” in the square circle, the 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins will take on rising unbeaten World Boxing Organization champion Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev in a light-heavyweight unification bout.

Hopkins, who now calls himself the “Alien,” is looking to beat up on another younger, stronger,faster fighter. But this fight, which is scheduled to place in November either at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City or the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn —two months before his 50th birthday (Jan.15), might be the toughest in his continuing battle against aging in the ring.

Unbeaten WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev is fresh off a second round knockout of Blake Caparello on Aug. 2.

Unbeaten WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev is fresh off a second round knockout of Blake Caparello on Aug. 2.

Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 knockouts) is fresh off a devastating second-round knockout of previously unbeaten Australian Blake Caparello. In that fight, Kovalev bounced back from a flash knockdown by Caparello and then knocked him down three times before the referee called a halt to the bout at the 1:47 mark of the second round.

What makes Kovalev a tough matchup for Hopkins is that he might be the hardest puncher that the age-defying Hopkins has met at this stage of his career.

Kovalev is a methodical, straight forward fighter who can hurt you with either hand. The unbeaten Russian is a disciplined fighter who can break another fighter down by going to the body before going to the head. The first knockdown against Caparello was the result of a devastating right to the body that was pretty much the beginning of the end.

The 31-year-old native of Cheylabinsk, Russia, has knocked out his last nine opponents.

But Hopkins, who holds the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association light heavyweight titles, has been in the ring against several hard-charging, hard punching fighters like Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver and has come out of those battles victorious.

Hopkins seems to relish those matches against aggressive young fighters who like to come forward so he can so he can find their weaknesses and take advantage of them. That’s why Hopkins is confident that he will get the same result against the hard-punching Kovalev and the be the oldest boxer to hold an undisputed title.

“I’ve set and broken many records, but becoming the oldest undisputed light heavyweight champion is the goal and Kovalev stands in the way of that goal,” Hopkins said. “He’s another young, hungry and just like the ones that came before him, he will leave the ring beltless.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to never to underestimate guts and guile of Hopkins. I have counted him out on numerous occasions as being too old. I have also predicted that there was going to come a point to where he was going to age in the ring.

But the crazy part about is that Hopkins has managed to prove me and several of his critics wrong more often than naught. Heck, even in his losses he hasn’t been beaten to a pulp. He has had very few cuts on his face and hasn’t been staggered or knocked down.

The big question here is whether or not Hopkins vast defensive skills and experience will be enough to withstand the vicious onslaught of Kovalev. This is a guy who has enough power in both hands to either knock another fighter into next week or have him eating soup for a few weeks with a vicious shot to the body.

“He says he is alien. He punch, I punch, then we see who gonna go to Mars,” Kovalev said.

While it’s easy for us to wonder why the hell Hopkins is back in the ring at his age in another battle against a younger, stronger, faster fighter capable of hastening his retirement with one punch, you have to give Hopkins credit for making it interesting.

It’s like an addictive reality show because with Hopkins you want to know what’s going to happen next.

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles Defense Hopes to Take it to the Next Level in 2014

30 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles hope Trent Cole and the defense will be even stronger in 2014

Eagles hope Trent Cole and the defense will be even stronger in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The big noise at the opening of the Eagles 2014 training camp is how fast will Chip Kelly’s offense be in its second year?

How good will the offense be with the addition of running back Darren Sproles? Will Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper stretch opposing defenses in the way that DeSean Jackson did last season? Can Nick Foles duplicate his success from last season now that he is firmly established as the Birds starting quarterback?

For all the potential of the Birds high-powered offense, the improvement of the Eagles 3-4 defense is going to be the key to the team’s success in 2014. Considering how the New Orleans Saints rolled up over 400 yards of offense against the Eagles in their NFC Wildcard Playoff game last season, there is definitely room for improvement.

While the Eagles defense played well toward the end of the regular season, they finished the season 29th overall and 32nd against the pass. They were 10th against the run and finished tied for third in takeaways-giveaways margin. The Birds also had 37 sacks as a unit and ranked 20th in the league in that category.

In 10 out of their last 12 games, the Eagles held teams to under 100 yards rushing including the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, who gained just 56 yards on the ground.

“I “I think the biggest thing you saw a year ago, you saw more assignment football,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. “Guys were studying hard to know their assignment, what was asked of them, and they were trying real hard to get to their assignment and maybe not understanding their whole picture of how they exactly fit with their teammates and how it all came together.”

The one thing that the Eagles, both players and coaches, have been saying throughout organized team activities, minicamps and in the early days of training camp is that they all have a better grasp of the defense in their second year.

“It’s the second year around. …The first year we did a great job,” said inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “In the second year, it’s chemistry, camaraderie, checks, plays. It’s all down and so we’re able to focus on the little things. This second year, we should be a whole lot better.”

It helped that the Birds added some players in the secondary. Former Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, who had three interceptions playing for the Miami Dolphins, and former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins will help to shore up an area the Eagles coaches felt was a weakness last season.

The only real position battle on the defense is at the other safety spot between veteran Nate Allen and second-year player Earl Wolfe.

Meanwhile, Davis said the Eagles 2014 No. 1 draft choice linebacker Marcus Smith is still a work in progress in terms of learning the defense. He said Smith, who 14.5 sacks as a senior at Louisville, does have some familiarity with the Eagles scheme because it was similar to what he played in at the collegiate level.

“Marcus is a very hard worker and a very intelligent guy and very athletic,” Davis said. “He’s picked it up fairly quickly and one of the biggest things that attracted us to him was that Louisville and Charlie Strong’s defense was a lot like ours and the way they used him is lot like the way we use our ‘Jack’ position.”

In football lingo, the “Jack” position in a 3-4 defense refers to the outside linebacker serving as the primary pass rusher that can line up on either side of the ball.

For all the flash and dash of the offense, the Birds defense, at this point of the season, doesn’t have an identity in the way that Eagles defenses have had in the past whether you’re talking about the days of Reggie White or the hard-blitzing squads that played for the late Jim Johnson.

“The personality of this group will show itself when we play in the preseason and as we play games on Sunday,” Davis said. “Our goal defensively is to break the rhythm of the offense and to get them off the field as often as possible with turnovers and third downs.”

And so when it comes to the Eagles defense in 2014, fans want to know one thing. …who are these guys?

“Our team is going to come after you and create turnovers,” said defensive end Fletcher Cox. “We’re going to be a hard-nosed defense.”

 

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