Archive | May, 2012

Eagles Hope OTAs Will Be the First Step to A Big Season in ’12

26 May

Michael Vick said he hopes cut down on turnovers 2012.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

After what was a disappointing 2011 season for the Philadelphia Eagles, many of the players pointed to the lockout and not having organized team activities and offseason workouts as a major reason the Birds struggled through the season.

“I think we brought so many new guys, who were excellent players, but we didn’t gel together, take care of business and get familiar with each other,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. “Now I think it’s going to work out well for us because we have time to learn in the meeting rooms and come out on the field and practice together.”

Granted, other teams around the league were faced with the same situation and some managed to do well anyway.. For example, the San Francisco 49ers faced a similar situation with a new head coach and new schemes on both sides of the ball and were within an overtime of going to the Super Bowl.

But on the other hand, some teams were affected by not having OTAs more than others. On defense, the Eagles had several highly-regarded free agents and a relatively inexperienced defensive coordinator in Juan Castillo.It took the darn near the entire season for that unit and Castillo to be on the same page.

By the time that happened, the Eagles lost several games in the fourth quarter and were out of the playoff race by the final week of the season.The good thing was that they won their last four games to finish the year at 8-8.

And so the Eagles welcomed the 2012 edition of OTAS or “voluntary” workouts with open arms in hopes that it will be the launching pad of what they hope will be a special season.

“It’s a different feel, everybody’s comfortable,” said Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. “We have these times to make the mistakes as opposed to come in the first game of the season and having to learn in games. It’s much better to have it this way than the way it was last year.”

Asomugha said that in addition to the three days they’ve spent during this first round of OTAs, the players on defense have had a chance to spend time with one another both on and off the field. He also said that playing well and winning the last four games of the season gives the defense something to build on.

“It’s not necessarily page one, it’s probably a new chapter,” Asomugha said. “If we’re going to us that metaphor, we’re still in the same book and it’s about building who we are as a team. Us winning those last four games was great, it gave us the confidence to say that we can do it. It’s a completely new year, our goal is building on it and building a great team.”

On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Michael Vick is hoping to cut down on his turnovers. Last season, Vick threw 18 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He also lost three fumbles. He completed 59.8 percent of his passes.

“Obviously, the turnovers because that’s something that can be corrected, and my accuracy,” Vick said. “Slowing down my feet and not getting too anxious and excited. I can do that from time-to-time and I have to work on it. If I do it, I will take my game to another level. I feel like I’m getting there, so I’m going to continue to work hard.”

But even beyond the Xs and O’s, the timing, the physical workouts, the Eagles are hoping to develop a sense of personal chemistry that will carry into the season, especially when times are tough.

“I think the big thing is camaraderie,” said Eagles tight end Brent Celek. “It’s the way you get to know somebody in the offseason because when that happens, no matter what anyone says, you dig a little bit deeper and a little bit harder if you like him.”

No Moral Victories: Confident Sixers Are Coming into Game 7 Expecting to Beat Boston

24 May

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun

Now that the Philadelphia 76ers are preparing for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with the Boston Celtics, head coach Doug Collins doesn’t want to hear anything about playing with “house” money or anything about a moral victory for getting this far in the playoffs.

Collins, who played in these kinds of games in his own playing career, wants more than just take home the consolation prize for merely showing up. After watching his team force a Game  7 with a tenacious performance on both ends of the floor in their 82-75  win over Boston, he believes his team is ready to take the next step.

“I want more, I’m willing to get greedy and we want more,” Collins said. “We’ve fought, we’ve worked and we’ve gone through a lot as a team. We’ve grown. … Our mindset is I don’t want to go into that game with no matter what happens, everything’s okay. I want to go into the game with the idea of let’s see what we can do, let’s see if we can get us a win.”

Andre Iguodala certainly shares Collin’s view of playing Boston in Game 7. He scored  13 points including a thunderous slam dunk that seemed to energize the Sixers players and the crowd  in the third quarter. Iguodala also hit a pair of clutch free-throws late in the game that kept the Sixers in the lead.

“If we were just happy to be here, then we could have just given up (Wednesday night) and saved ourselves a trip to Boston,” Iguodala said. “That’s one thing about our team is that we believe in ourselves. Each game from here on out is only going to enhance our careers, knowing what it takes to get to each different level. We’re taking it one game at a time and we’re playing confident.”

The Sixers will play the Celtics in Boston Saturday night in the decisive Game 7 to see which teams will go to the Eastern Conference Finals to play the winner of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

If the Sixers can keep taking the ball to the basket the way they did against the Celtics in Game 6, they will certainly have more than a puncher’s chance of advancing to the next round. Point guard Jrue Holiday played arguably his best game of the series.

He scored 20 points including a huge basket that put the 76ers up by 11 with 3:15 left and hitting two free-throws late in the game to put the final nail in the Celtics coffin for game 6. He also dished out six assists.

“I was very proud of Jrue Holiday (Wednesday),” said Collins, who showed his team clips of the Sixers Game 7 road win over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals back in 1982 the day before Game 6. “He stayed in attack mode. He knows what he needs to score for us. He did a great job of that.”

Another player the player the Sixers will be counting on Game 7 will be power forward Elton Brand, who played 34 minutes in Game 6 and scored 13 points while pulling down 10 rebounds. He did yeoman’s work helping to defend Boston’s Kevin Garnett.Brand also did some scoring inside the paint as well.

“Everything’s a learning process and we’re seeing how imperative it is to have home court advantage,” Brand said. “Now we’re going on the road. It’s going to be tough. We know we have to battle, but we’re going to have to find a way.”

One of those ways is trying to stop Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. The Sixers kept Rondo from penetrating in the low post and held him to nine points and six assists in Game 6.

“Our communication was a lot better,”Iguodala said. “They’ve been sending their pick and rolls deeper. Our bigs ended up doing a better job of communicating what they want to do defensively.”

After six tough games with the up and coming Sixers, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said the most difficult thing about playing the 76ers is having to deal with the youth and their speed.

“Well, they’re athletic,” Rivers said. “They play with a lot of energy and it’s very difficult for our guy. We knew this matchup coming in would be hard because they have a quickness advantage and we understand that.”

The Sixers are hoping to use any advantage get for Game 7.

Notes—Former Sixers guard Allen Iverson carried the ceremonial game ball for Game 6 into the Wells Fargo Center. He was given a thunderous standing ovation by the sellout crowd of 20, 402 fans who showered him with chants of “MVP.”

Phils Lack of Run Support Spoils Good Effort by Kyle Kendrick

22 May

By Chris Murray

For the Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

While fans and media folk are trying to figure out when Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are going to rejoin the team, the Phillies players who are playing are trying to figure out where their bats are hidden when they have runners in scoring position.

It seems like the umpteenth time that we’ve witnessed the continuing saga of another Phillies pitcher that has a decent performance on the mound only to have the offense muck it up by not scoring runs. Monday’s best pitching performance without- run-support award goes to a much-improved Kyle Kendrick (0-4).

And for Kendrick’s effort, of course, the Phillies were on the short-end of a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals front of another sell-out crowd at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phils have lost three straight since their season-high six-game winning streak.

“You can’t control that,” Kendrick said after the game when asked about the Phiilles inability to score runs.. “As a starting pitching, you have to do what you can for as long as you can to keep your team in the game. You can’t worry about run support. It’s all out of your hands.”

In seven innings of work, Kendrick scattered five hits over seven innings, allowed just two runs with four strikeouts and two walks. The only damage to Kendrick came from Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond who got a solo home-run in in the second inning and an RBI single in the fourth. Kendrick retired the last 11 men he faced.

“He got in trouble early, but he pitched out of it and did a tremendous job at the end,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. “He ended up doing a good job.”

Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez did an even better job stifling Phillies hitters. He struck out nine and scattered just three hits, allowing no runs in six innings of work.

Though they did managed to score a run in the bottom on a sacrifice fly by Ty Wigginton that scored John Mayberry Jr, the most frustrating thing about this game were the other scoring opportunities they blew. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. They left 10 men on base. The Phillies are 0-17 in games when they are trailing going into the ninth inning.

The Phillies had the bases loaded in the third with two outs and failed to score.In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Phillies had men on second and third with nobody out. First, Hunter Pence had a line drive that Nationals centerfielder Rick Ankiel caught falling to the ground, but Placido Polanco didn’t tag up third, thinkng the ball was going to drop for a base hit. He was off the bag while the ball was in the air.

“I was thinking (Polanco) would score, the guy (Ankiel) slipped to the ground,” Manuel said.

Polanco would get thrown out at home on a grounder that Carlos Ruiz to first baseman Adam LaRoche. With men on first and second and two out, John Mayberry Jr. flew out to right to end the Phillies threat. Another blown scoring opportunity.

“That hurt us,” Manuel said. “We can’t afford not to score runs with a doubt. If you’re going to scream small ball, you have to score those kinds of runs.”

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies had men on first and second with one out. Pence inexplicably swung at the first pitch and popped it up to the third baseman and was ruled out on the infield-fly rule. Ruiz ended the inning on a force out to the shortstop.

After scoring their only run in the ninth inning, the Phillies ended the game with a runner stranded on second when Polanco lined out to the second baseman to end the game.

Polanco said he and his fellow teammates simply have to relax and avoid trying too hard.

“You feel the pressure everywhere,” Polanco said. “When you get out there, you want to get a hit.”

Manuel said he would like to see guys like Pence and Shane Victorino start hitting on a more consistent basis.

“We need some guys to get hot and start hitting the ball for us,” Manuel said. “It’s hard for a major league lineup if you got just one guy hitting, that’s not good enough. That’s where the consistency part comes in.The guys in the lineup have to pick one another up.”

 

Sixers Huge Comeback Stuns Boston, Evens Eastern Semis at 2-2

19 May

 

Lou Williams came up big for the Sixers in their win over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Whenever the Philadelphia 76ers have had a bad game in the playoffs, they’ve always found a way to bounce back in a series. Down to two games to one in their best of seven second-round series against the Boston Celtics, the Sixers were in another situation where they had to come hard to get back in it.

Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Celtics, the Sixers streak of coming back from tough playoff losses was in serious jeopardy and they were on the verge of  being in a deep 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven series.

But the Sixers are not only alive, they are well and are back on even footing with the Celtics.

In a game where the Sixers were down 15-0 to start the game, shot an atrocious 23 percent (9-of-39) from the field after the first half and trailed by as many 18 points early in the third quarter, Doug Collins young team managed to somehow even their best of seven Eastern Conference semifinal with an amazing 92-83 comeback victory over the stunned Celtics in front of a packed house at the Wells Fargo Center.

“We’re never discouraged,” said Sixers forward Thaddeus Young. “We knew that when we shot that poorly that we couldn’t keep shooting that poorly. We just said keep doing what we been doing. When we shot like that in the first half, it wasn’t just jump shots. We were trying to get it in the paint and we had to keep imposing our will in the game. We had to keep following the game plan. It’s just a matter of making shots. We did a better job of getting ourselves more open in the second half than we did in the first.”

With his team on the brink of a deep 3-1 hole, Collins kept exhorting his team to hang in a game where inside baskets and going to the free-throw line was an adventure, bordering on a disaster movie for the Sixers  in the first half.

“I just kept telling our guys, ‘we’re going to keep battling,” Collins said. “Something’s good going to happen here…We came out in that fourth quarter and we executed. We moved the ball around, we didn’t turn the ball over and we made some big shots.”

The Sixers were able to bounce back in the second half thanks to their defense and their bench, especially with the starters struggling to find the basket. Sixers guard Louis Williams gave the Sixers a spark of the bench with his scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second half. He also had eight assists including a big dime to Andre Iguodala, who knocked down a three-point bucket to put the Sixers up by five points with a 36.9 left in the game. The Sixers closed the game on a 9-0 run.

“When we were bleeding, Lou has that capability,” Collins said. “Lou made some big shots and then he made a huge pass. He was shooting the ball so well that he got in the paint and he kicked it out to Dre (Iguodala) and put us up five.”

Rookie Lavoy Allen (eight points and 10 rebounds) and Young, who scored 12 points, pulled 10 rebounds and three assists, provided the muscle for the Sixers in the interior grabbing rebounds, playing defense and passing the ball on the offensive end. Thanks to Allen and Young, the Sixers managed to save several possessions by dominating the offensive boards out-rebounding Boston 17-5.

The Sixers also forced 17 turnovers and got 27 fast break points. In the third quarter, the Sixers knocked down that 18-point deficit by going a 15-2 scoring spurt to trail by just five with 5:22 left in the third quarter.

“They sped us up a little bit and we were taking quick shots,” said Celtics point Rajon Rondo. “I guess we made some turnovers in that stretch and they made shots.”

But Boston increased the deficit to nine with 4:07 left, but the Sixers closed out the quarter on a 10-5 spurt to cut the deficit to four going into fourth quarter.

“I thought coming out of halftime, really I thought they just came out and became more physical,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “We took it away from ourselves, they took it away, too.We did more than settle for (jump shots) We stopped running our stuff.”

The much-maligned Iguodala also came up big for the Sixers, scoring 13 of his 16 points in the second half. He was 3-for-3 from three-point range including that dagger of a trey that put the Celtics away for good.

Eagles RB McCoy is Ready to Get Back to Work after Inking $45 million deal

18 May
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LeSean McCoy says he’s ready to get back to football after contract negotiations.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Now that the stress of getting his five-year, $45-million deal is behind him, Eagles running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy is not only ready to get back to work to start the 2012 season, he is out to prove that he is the best in the NFL.

“Even without this deal, I want to come in this league, in this year and dominate,” McCoy said. “That’s what I want to do with the money or without the money, I want to dominate. I want to be considered the best all the time, not just this year and then take a year off. I want it to be on a consistent basis where I’m mentioned as one of the best better backs and my team is doing well.”

Coming off a season where he gained 1,309 yards rushing (ranked 4th in the NFL) while scoring a franchise record 20 total touchdowns (17 rushing and three receiving), it was a no-brainer for the Eagles to reward the 23-year-old McCoy , who also had 48 receptions, with a good deal because of his value to the offense.

We felt like we had a great nucleus of guys, LeSean being one of that group,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He does it all, so this isn’t a one-dimensional running back. This is a running back that can not only carry the football for you but can catch the football as well as the wide receivers and he can block and loves playing the game. That brings great energy to this football team.”

McCoy said with the burden of getting that big contract signed makes it easier for him to get ready for the organized team activities during this spring.

“I love to compete and that’s the biggest thing with me and my teammates in the locker room ,” McCoy said. “A lot of guys on this team have nice deals and they’re in the same boat I am. They’ll come in and work hard.”

On the surface, it looked like getting the deal would be easier said than done, especially since McCoy’s agent is Drew Rosenhaus. But this time around there was no prolonged holdouts, or negotiating in the news media or elaborate press conferences outside his clients home. It was a matter of all sides being honest and working it out.

Rosenhaus said Reid was a major force during the negotiations along with Eagles general manager Howie Rosen with who the controversial agent spent the most time with during the course of working out the terms of McCoy’s contract.

“Coach Reid kind of sat there as a presence,’hey I want this deal to happen, guys. Do whatever it takes,” Rosenhaus said. “He motivated both sides. He was very instrumental in the process.

“In the multitude of deals we’ve done with the Eagles and they are in the dozens since he’s been the head coach this is the most involved that I’ve seen him. ..The main goal is to win a championship.”

Not only has Rosenhaus successfully negotiated deals McCoy, but he’s also gotten deals for DeSean Jackson, and Evan Mathis. Yes, this is the same Drew Rosenhaus whom folks despised for his infamous, “Next Question,” debacle back in 2005 with his former client Terrell Owens. He was a guy that was presumeably the scourge of Eagles management because of what some people thought was his penchant for strong-arming teams by negotiating with them through the media. .

Apparently, That’s the case not anymore. Rosenhaus said he has a good relationship with Eagles management in recent years and credits the Birds management for facilitating that process.

“Guys have been uneasy about some of the things that have happened in the past and may have been nervous about our relationship with the Eagles,” Rosenhaus said. “With Evan, DeSean, and LeSean, the Eagles were very positive towards them about us. They let the players know that they have no problems dealing with us and that we would be able to work out deals.”

Rosenhaus said he’s learned a lot of things over the years about allowing things with his clients to escalate in the media during the course of contract negotiations.

“At one time, I communicated too much with the media when it was related to negotiations then I was completely distance,” Rosenhaus said. “Now I’m trying to be somewhere in a good middle.”

Despite Win Streak, Bullpen and Offense Still a Problem for the Phillies

16 May

Cliff Lee struck out 10 against Houston Tuesday, but got a no-decision because the bullpen allowed the Astros to tie it in the ninth. The Phils needed a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to win it.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Phillies are hoping this current run of wins will be the start of more consistent winning streak that will get them on track for contending for another National League East crown.

But even though they’ve won four out of their last five games against a couple of bad teams, the Philies still have issues they need to fix if they’re going to keep this run of wins going.

Though the Phillies ended this last home stand with a walk-off homerun by Hunter Pence to beat the Houston Astros 4-3 in 10 innings, it probably shouldn’t have come to that point. Instead of bringing in Jonathan Papelbon to close out the game, Chad Qualls came into the game and gave up two runs to tie it at 3-3, ruining starting pitcher Cliff Lee’s best effort of the season.

The reason you didn’t see Papelbon in the game to close it was that he was in the game night before in a 5-1 win over the Astros. That led folks to asking why w ould use your best reliever in a game four-run game.

Manuel’s initial explanation was that Papelbon already warm and Antonio Bastardo had pitched in three straight games. Qualls, oddly enough, was pitching in his fourth game out of the last five games. Bastardo was unavailable for Tuesday’s game.

It might have been better to pitch Qualls in Monday’s game where you had a four-run lead. But of course, if Qualls blows the lead in that game, then folks would have been saying Manuel should have brought in Papelbon.

But later in the postgame press conference when Manuel was asked a question about Citizen’s Bank Park being such an easy place to hit homeruns, he modified his answer on Papelbon being in the game with a four-run lead by talking about how it easy it is to hit homeruns in places like the Phillies homefield.

“A four-run lead is not what you call a big, safe lead,” Manuel said. “If he’s rested and he can throw sometimes, it might be best to use him. If you play in Colorado and I used to managed in Colorado Springs, I used to look at a five-run lead like it was two or three. That’s exactly how I looked at it and believe me you better be prepared for some of that.”

The bottom line to all of this is that the Phillies bullpen is woefully inconsistent no matter how you, I or anyone else would have called it.. Still, I probably would have pitched Qualls in the four-run win over the Astros that Monday night. Papelbon had pitched in four straight games and I’m sure Manuel didn’t trust Jose Contreras, who has been struggling in his first games back from an injury.

I would have erred on resting Papelbon when I had a four-run lead and then bringing him back the next day if I needed him. But again, if Qualls blows a four-run lead, the manager would have also received a heavy dose of second-guessing and criticism.

Luckily, for the Phillies, rookie Jake Diekman saved the day for the Phillies by getting the last out in the ninth and retiring the Astros in order in the 10th . They should probably use that guy more often or at least until the rest of the league figures him out

On the flip side of the coin, the Phillies struggling offense, sans Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, have done a poor job of putting teams away when they’ve had opportunities. Tuesday’s win over the Astros was a good case in point. If they could have scored more runs, we are not having this discussion about the bullpen.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Phillies had two men on first and third with no outs. Pence, who was on third was thrown out at the plate after John Mayberry Jr. hit a grounder to the third baseman. Why Pence tried to score in that situation is beyond me. The inning ended with Freddy Galvis flying out and Brian Schneider grounding out to the first baseman with the pitcher covering first.

“We need to pick up those hits with two outs and add on, not just be complacent with three or four runs,” Schneider said. “We have to get those hits and make it a four or five-run lead. We have to do that to be successful.”

Last Place Phillies Looking For a Win Streak to Jump Start the Season

13 May

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA–With the Phillies still occupying the National League East cellar at 16-19, you have to figure that it’s a matter of time(remember it’s only May) for the team to put together a streak of games to put themselves back in the pennant race.

You know they have the starting pitching, but it’s going to be consistent hitting and their bullpen that’s going to move them up the standings.

After a horrendous sweep by the New York Mets earlier this week, the Phillies bounced back to win the series against a hapless San Diego Padres squad that they should have swept. Sunday’s 3-2 win was a grinder of a victory where the Phillies took advantage of enough scoring opportunities to put them over the top.

“Everytime you win a series, you’re doing your job,” said Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who led off the game with his 38th career lead-off home run. “Definitely, you like to bring some sweeps in, get on a roll where you win about five or six games in a row before you lose a game, but we haven’t done that yet.

“Win two out of three or three out of four in a four-game series is what’s going to be important is to keep moving up the win column one game at a time. In the second half of the season, you’ll find yourself in it.”

What’s hurt this team so far is not taking advantage of opportunities to get runs when they have runners in scoring position. In Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the Phillies were 1-for-12 with runners on second or third base. In the win on Sunday, the Phillies weren’t much better, they were 2-for-11 with runners in position to score.

“It’s definitely been that way so far, but we can always s change that with one swing of the bat,” Rollins said. “Not getting hits with runners in scoring position, not driving the guy with the runner on third with less than two outs. All those are showing up that in the past that we’ve been able to get away with, but don’t worry about we’ll get it next time.

“But we haven’t been getting that next time. I said at the beginning of the season, if we execute we’ll win. We haven’t been executing.”

Meanwhile, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel is not only concerned about his hitters not taking advantage of opportunities to score, but he also wants bullpen, especially his middle relievers and set-up men to hang onto leads in the late innings, something they did a poor job of doing in the series against the Mets in the first three games of this homestand.

The goal for the Phillies bullpen is to get to closer Jonathan Papelbon on the mound to seal the victory. So far, this season, the former Boston Red Sox closer is 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the Phils.

“Somehow, some way when we’ve got the lead, we have to get to Papelbon,” Manuel said. “I think everybody in baseball knows that. We’ve got to improve in our bullpen. We have to do better.”

If the Phillies offense can give their starting rotation the kind of run support that they’ve given Cole Hamels (5-1), that would certainly help them get back on track. In his first start since his suspension, Hamels allowed just one earned run with five strikeouts in seven innings.

“It’s nice to get some runs and obviously when you get runs, you can win,” Hamels said. “If I go out there and battle, I can pitch deep into the game, we can win games. It’s helpful to go out there and know that you’re team is going to come through.”

While the Phillies obviously want to jump start the season and start winning games, there are still players on this team with enough experience to recognize that now it’s not the time to panic.Juan Pierre, who played for the then Florida Marlins team that won a World Series in 2003, said it’s something that he has been through before with other teams.

“If you stay around .500 in August, you’ll have a chance to win,” said Pierre, who RBI double driving home catcher Brian Schneider turned out to be the game-winning run. “I’ve been on teams like that and we’ve ended up winning the World Series. I know a 102-win season is good and dandy, but this is real life baseball, that don’t come around too often. You usually gotta battle and bust your butt. That’s the teams that I’ve been on.”