Archive | May, 2016

The Running Man: Wendell Smallwood Hopes to be the Eagles Next Star Back

21 May
Wendell Smallwood

West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (4) during the Cactus Bowl NCAA college football game against Arizona State, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Phoenix, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri via AP)

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

At this time last year, Philadelphia Eagles fans were salivating at the prospect of former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, the league’s leading rusher at the time, leading the team to the Super Bowl Promised Land.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way.  Between a patchwork offensive line and an offensive scheme that didn’t play to his strengths,  Murray couldn’t duplicate what he did in Dallas. Throw in the fact that he really wasn’t happy with the Eagles and had no problem letting anyone, including team management, know it, he was ultimately traded.

While Murray’s departure leaves a pretty sizable hole for the Birds, it also gives a rare opportunity to the team’s fifth-round draft pick, former West Virginia star Wendell Smallwood to make some real noise, starting with this week’s Rookie Mini-Camp. If he plays his cards right, he could be the starting running back for the team.

Of course, running backs Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles might have something to say about that, but what bodes well for Smallwood is that he appears to be a good fit for head coach Doug Pederson’s West Coast offense.

Playing for a usually pass-happy West Virginia squad, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing, gaining 1,512 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 yards per carry and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Smallwood also caught 26 passes for 160 yards and has experience as a pass blocker.

“When you look at his numbers this year (2015) and you watch the tape, it’s like doubles all the time,” said Howie Roseman, Eagles vice-president of football operations. “Fifty-eight 10-plus yard runs and it’s play after play. He runs with a determination. You see the speed on tape and you see the speed in testing.”

Smallwood fits into Pederson’s offense the way Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles or former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook fit into Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

But Smallwood comes into his first rookie camp with some minor baggage. In July 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trying to get a witness to change a story that implicated his friend in a robbery attempt.  No criminal charges were filed.

Smallwood also got noticed here in Philadelphia for some offensive statements he made about the city in 2011 on, you guessed it, Twitter. He has since apologized and deactivated his Twitter account.

Most of Smallwood’s first press conference with the Philly media was spent fielding questions about his past social media activities and his arrest. To his credit, he handled the onslaught well and said he was happy that Eagles picked him.

“This organization trusted and believed in me and had confidence in me to know that’s not the person I am,” Smallwood said. “I think the impression that I left with the Eagles was good enough to get me drafted.”

While the scrutiny is understandable on one level, they amount to youthful indiscretion and bad judgment. If folks got judged on the stupid things that they did and said they were 18 or 19 years old,  a lot of people wouldn’t have jobs.

Did it have anything to do with why he was a fifth round pick? Not really. Had Smallwood stayed for his senior year at West Virginia, he might have been a Heisman Trophy candidate or Doak Walker Award candidate as the nation’s best running back.

Smallwood said he’s going to come into the Eagles camp with something to prove in the way he did in his final year at West Virginia.

“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder since I started playing the game,” Smallwood said. “That’s because I wasn’t getting the respect that I deserved. Just wanting to work for everything and wanting to prove to people that I’m better than whoever put me against. I’m a competitor and I love to compete.  I approach the game that way and its paid off that way in getting me here.”

 

 

 

 

 

Time for the 76ers to Stop Talking Process and Start Showing Progress

20 May

The Philadelphia 76ers won the 2016 NBA Draft Lottery and Will Get the No. 1 Pick. It’s Time to Stop Tanking and Starting Building a Contender. 

Ben Simmons

The Philadelphia 76ers have the top pick in 2016 NBA Draft. Will they pick LSU’s Ben Simmons? Photo by NBA.com.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

After several years of tanking, the Philadelphia 76ers efforts at being really bad have finally yielded something good.

On Tuesday night, the Sixers won the NBA Draft Lottery and got the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft. That means that either LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram is going to hold up a white 76ers jersey after their names are called.

Add this to the other two picks the Sixers will have in the first round and you get a team that has the opportunity to get some exciting young players that have the potential to point a Sixers team that badly needs it in the right direction.

If you saw 76ers head coach Brett Brown during the NBA Lottery broadcast on ESPN, he was like a kid at Christmas when he saw his team logo in the No. 1 slot. He seemed like a guy who’s looking forward to coaching a team capable of winning more than 10 games.

“We’ve taken hits for three seasons,” Brown told ESPN. “We’re excited with the position that we’re now in. I love some of my current players. We think we can grow them. I’ve got a real belief in Joe Embiid and I have faith in Dario Saric. I’m thrilled for our city.”

We have to take a moment to acknowledge former General Manager Sam Hinkie and the “process” of serial tanking that brought the Sixers to this moment.

But now that we’ve done that, it’s time to talk about winning. It’s time to stop having prolonged losing streaks. It’s time to stop tanking.

It’s time to start moving forward.

The last time the Sixers got the number one overall pick, it was 1996 and the team used it to draft Allen Iverson. Five years later, the 76ers became a perennial playoff team, made it to the NBA Finals in 2001, and Iverson went on to become a Hall of Famer. While nobody is expecting the Sixers to improve immediately, we’d like to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Shucks, I’m willing to accept five to 10 games below .500 as a show of progress.

The Sixers will also have a heckuva choice between Simmons and Ingram.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. He’s a good ball-handler for a big man, has point-guard-like court vision and averaged 4.8 assists per game. From what I’ve seen, he has an NBA body and reminds me of Magic Johnson with his ability to handle the ball for a big man. But in a game where the three-point shot has become king, his suspect jump shot might give the team pause.

At 6-foot-9, Ingram is a good scorer and can hit the outside shot. He was 41 percent from three-point range, but needs to work on being a ball-handler as a playmaking guard. He scored 17 points per game and pulled down six rebounds and averaged two assists per game.

And the team will also have to figure out how to work with what it already has…and what shape it’s actually in.

Speaking of the 7-2 Embiid, he was reportedly seen at the team’s practice facility at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine working out in the gym, taking some shots and throwing down a few slam dunks.

Embiid is coming off of a couple of surgeries to repair his right foot, and can either be the player that he was projected to be coming out of Kansas and the big man the Sixers need to anchor the low post or the second coming of Greg Oden or Sam Bowie, both of whom had chronic foot or leg problems that stunted their careers. It’s anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, the 6-9 Saric has let it be known that he is going to be leaving the Turkish team, Anadolu Efes, to play for the Sixers in the 2016-2017 season. He averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game. According to several scouting reports, Saric has become a better at hitting the three-pointer and is shooting 37 percent from behind the arc.

And don’t forget about young guys like Jahlil Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points per game last season, and Nerlens Noel, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds per game and is a solid defensive presence.

The Sixers have a lot of pieces that could become an interesting puzzle when you add the three new first-round picks they’re going to get this year.

Whether the puzzle is going to look like a lush landscape or a haunted house will determine how many people come to the Wells Fargo Center to see them.

 

 

 

 

Black Voters Must Demand Accountability Beyond Election Day

10 May

African-American Voters Need to  Hold Clinton’s Feet to the Fire and Make Sure Delivers on her Promises 

By Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun 

HilaryandJohnLewis

Black leaders like Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga, (left) have endorsed Democratic Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, but will she deliver on her promises to African Americans? Photo by ajc.com.

Now that the barrage of debates and campaign stump speeches of the 2016 President Election primary season is almost over, we all kind of know that the general election is going to come down to the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee, businessman Donald Trump, and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who appears to be the eventual Democratic nominee.

As it stands right now, Clinton has 2,205 of the 2,383 she needs to secure the Democratic nomination. Her opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders has just 1,362 delegates and doesn’t have a mathematical shot to win.

Despite the rumblings of the “Bernie or Bust” crowd, a group of Sanders supporters who have said that they’ll either write Sanders in, vote for Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, or in some extreme cases, vote for Trump in hopes of fomenting a “revolution” that would sweep Sanders to power, Sanders and his supporters will most likely unite behind Clinton at some point.

One of the main reasons that Clinton nearly has the Democratic nomination in her grasp is because of the Black vote. Whether we’re talking South Carolina, Pennsylvania or Maryland, Clinton seems to resonate with Black voters in a way that Sanders hasn’t been able to despite having prominent Blacks like rapper Killer Mike, Cornel West, Spike Lee and Harry Belafonte in his corner.

According to Jonathan Capehart, a political columnist for the Washington Post, Clinton has won the heart of Black voters by tying herself to the legacy of President Barack Obama, talking about the way that income inequality is impacted by race and how that hurts the Black community, and putting some of the onus on Whites for healing the country’s racial divide.

Clinton has also been on Black radio stations, attended social events, played dominoes with the brothers and has even admitted to carrying a bottle of hot sauce in her bag, something that we’ve all done from time to time whether or not we want to admit it.

But while some in the Black community are happy to give Clinton their votes because she’s hobnobbed with them, the brothas and sistuhs need to make sure that she remembers us if she wins the presidency. The Black voters who cast their lot with Clinton need to hold her feet to the fire and insist that she keeps her promises to them.

It’s something we haven’t been all that good at of late. Despite having the power to elect mayors, congressmen, state representatives governors and even a President, the Black community hasn’t figured out how to hold those politicians we got elected accountable to carry out the promises they made at our local church or community fish fry. Unemployment among Blacks is still high, inner city schools are underfunded and our communities are beset by violence in the form of both crime and police brutality.

We’ll be at the polls to pull down the lever or press the button on Election Day. But what happens after that?  From my own perspective, we look at our politicians, especially those who look like us, as if they were some kind of Messiah who will take away all of our problems with one stroke of the pen or a magic wand.

Even worse is that once the folks we elect are sworn in, we stop paying attention until we see them again during the next election.

The next great movement for Blacks is to become more engaged in the political process. We have to be more informed citizens, starting with something as a basic as being active in local community organizations, using social media for something other than posting fight videos, bombarding your local councilman’s office with email on a particular topic, or showing up at his or her headquarters with protesters to demand change.

But no matter what method we choose to engage with, the Black community has got to make politicians accountable to our issues. That old Frederick Douglass adage about power conceding nothing without demand is in play here and it’s time for Blacks to make that demand of all of our public officials, no matter what race or party affiliation.

We’ve done it before.

In 1960, the Black vote swept John F. Kennedy into the Oval Office after he visited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Jr. in jail and subsequently helped him get released. On the campaign trail, Kennedy promised to end discrimination in public housing with an executive order, but once he got into office, he dragged his feet.

Blacks forced President Kennedy to pay attention and do as he promised by taking to the streets, conducting sit-ins, and boycotting. The end result was Civil Rights legislation.

That’s what we have to do now.

We have to be vigilant about this even when we lose a few battles along the way. When I hear Black Sanders supporters say they’re not going to vote in the general election, I shake my head because they don’t realize that they can fight for their issues even if it their candidate is not on the ballot.

The tactics will probably be different from those that were used during the Civil Rights movement, but we have to sit down and figure out a way to make it work for us. Saying that the game is rigged or we shouldn’t participate in voting is a cop out.

The most important that Dr. King left us is the realization that we have to vigilant in our fight to make those in power accountable to us.

“We have to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” King said, “We’ve got to see it through.”

And seeing it through begins at the Ballot Box, but it doesn’t end there.

 

 

 

 

The Other Guys The Eagles Drafted

7 May

Sure, Carson Wentz got a lot of the attention as the Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick. But the team picked up a few other pieces in the 2016 NFL Draft.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Wendell Smallwood

Can Wendell Small be the next great running back for the Eagles. Photo by wvusports.com

The 2016 NFL Draft will obviously be remembered for the Philadelphia Eagles wheeling and dealing into the No. 2 spot to get quarterback Carson Wentz, the man they hope will be the Birds next franchise quarterback.

But I thought that there were a few more things that the Eagles needed to do in the draft on the offensive side of the ball in addition to getting a new number one quarterback.

I think they addressed the things that they needed. The only problem is, we won’t really know for quite some time how good the pieces they picked up in the draft will be.

That said, I thought the Eagles did a good job of adding some depth on their offensive line and finding a running back that would fit head coach Doug Pederson’s scheme.

Perhaps the most intriguing Eagles draft  pick in is former West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (5-11, 208).  When you look at what he did at the collegiate level, Smallwood, a back similar to the Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal Charles is an ideal fit for Pederson’s version of the West Coast offense.

In 2015, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing, gaining 1,512 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 yard per carry and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Smallwood also caught 26 passes for 160 yards and has experience as a pass blocker.

Smallwood has a good shot to get some playing time alongside guys like Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. He’s definitely a good three-down back and reminds me of, dare I say, LeSean McCoy.

But the downside for Smallwood, a native Wilmington, Delaware, is that he’s had some off-field incidents that have raised more than a few eyebrows. In July 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trying to get a witness change her story implicating a friend in a robbery attempt.  No charges were filed against Smallwood. He’s also made a few offensive statements on social media.

But from most accounts and from the Eagles extensive background checks, Smallwood is a mature young man who has stayed out of trouble since  and is looking to do the right thing.

“We spent a lot of time with him and we feel that this is a good kid,” said Howie Roseman, Eagles vice president of football operations. “He’s got to prove it on and off the field, but we have no doubts about what kind of player and person he is.”

After former coach Chip Kelly inexplicably refused to bring in more offensive linemen last season via the draft last season, Pederson and Roseman made sure that the Birds brought in some beef on the offensive line after the team struggled in that department last year.

Third round draft pick Isaac Seumalo (6-4, 303) played just about every position on the offensive line during his collegiate career at Oregon State.  He will probably challenge Allen Barbre for the left guard spot and some observers are saying that Seumalo could be the team’s next center.

According to Pro Football Focus.com, Seumalo is a solid pass protect who can locate and knock down opposing defenders while on the move. More importantly, Seumalo is probably better than anyone the Eagles currently have on the roster.

Former TCU tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (6-6, 320), is big enough to block out the sun and most opposing defenders. He has played at both left and the right tackle. He will probably back up veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters, who’s at the tail end of his career.

Vaitai will eventually be playing at one of those tackle positions if Peters retires or gets hurt during the season. If that does happen, Vaitai would move to the right tackle slot while Lane Johnson would take Peters’s spot.

But let’s not put the cart before the horse here, Vaitai and Seumalo both have to show that they can beat out guys who are already immersed in the Eagles offensive scheme.

But at the end of the day, having solid depth at the offensive line position can only help an offense that couldn’t block many people last year.