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A Tale of Two Successful Rookies: Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott

28 Oct
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Carson Wentz shares a few words with Jordan Matthews during the Eagles win over the Minnesota Vikings. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

When the Philadelphia Eagles drafted Carson Wentz in the first round and the Dallas Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, most pro football observers thought that both rookies would have to spend time holding their team’s clipboards.

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Rookie Dak Prescott has led the Dallas Cowboys to a 5-1 record and first place in the NFC East.

But a funny thing happened on their way to their apprenticeships.

Both Wentz and Prescott became starters. Granted, the circumstances that put them there were kind of strange, but hey.

The Cowboys not only lost starting quarterback Tony Romo in the third game of the preseason, but also backup Kellen Moore. Prescott, who had a solid preseason, was thrust into the starting quarterback role.

Meanwhile. Wentz was thrown to the wolves eight days prior to the start of the regular season when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings who had lost their starter Teddy Bridgewater to a broken leg.

Usually, rookies struggle under such conditions.

But Wentz and Prescott haven’t played like rookies.

Because of this, the two rookies will take the field for NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast to fight for control of the NFC East. The Cowboys are in first place at 5-1 with the Eagles nipping at their heels at 4-2.

Prescott has completed 68 percent of his passes and has seven touchdown passes against one interception. He has thrown for 1,486 yards and has quarterback rating of 103.9.  Wentz has eight touchdown passes with three interceptions and has completed 63.8 percent of his passes and has a 92.7 quarterback rating. He has 1,324 passing yards.

“They know how to win. They know how to lead their teams. Nothing seems to be too big for either one of them,” said Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. “They take it in stride. The ability to protect the football through these first six, seven games has been crucial.”

One of the things that both Wentz and Prescott have in common is that they are both athletic, mobile quarterbacks that can make plays with their legs.  The work that both players have put in has paid off to the point that Prescott and Wentz have looked like poised NFL veterans.

“I think in our case, how well he [Wentz] prepares himself during the week, his leadership ability,” Pederson said.  “And all that is just taught at an early age and you kind of just have it, and some guys have it, some guys don’t. Both of these guys have it.”

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett coached Wentz during the Senior Bowl and was high on him because of his work ethic and his football IQ. Even though he was the third-string quarterback, Prescott prepared for his moment on the stage.

“It’s starts with his preparation. He always ready,” Garrett said. “Always was able to handle the offense, call plays and handle himself at the line of scrimmage. You can tell he was prepared.”

At one point during this season, Wentz and Prescott were trying to break the NFL-record for the most passing attempts without an interception. Wentz went 135 pass attempts without tossing interception. Meanwhile, Prescott did eventually break Tom Brady’s NFL record, making 155 pass attempts without an interception.

Prescott and Wentz met during last year’s Senior Bowl and again during the Scouting Combine. Both players praised each other for the success they’ve had so far.

“It’s exciting to see that he’s having been have some successes as well,” Wentz said. “It’s going to be fun to go see him play.”

Prescott said he’s not surprised at how well Wentz is performing as the Eagles starting quarterback because of his intelligence and his work ethic.

“He’s a smart guy, great player, a great athlete,” Prescott said. “He’s doing exactly what I thought he would do. I figured he’d be a good player in this league. He’s been doing well.”

In an age of trash talk and obnoxious self-promotion, both Prescott and Wentz are a breath of fresh air and are humble in their approach to Sunday’s game.  When a reporter asked Prescott about going up against Wentz, he quickly deflected the question to emphasize team.

“It’s Cowboys versus Eagles.” Prescott said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles Rookie Jordan Matthews Hopes to Make his Own Mark

17 May

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

PHILADELPHIA—New Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews came into his first rookie minicamp press conference Friday humble and saying all the right things about the work he has ahead of him.

Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews taking questions from reporters during a rookie camp press conference.   Photo by Chris Murray.

Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews taking questions from reporters during a rookie camp press conference. Photo by Chris Murray.

Considering how some highly-touted college hotshots have come into the NFL with delusions of grandeur and over-hyped bravado, Matthews is definitely a breath of fresh air, especially when he was asked about dealing with the burden of having to replace former Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure,” said Matthews, the Eagles second-round draft pick. “Like I’ve said, I’m a totally different player than DeSean Jackson. I don’t know where any of those comparisons are coming from. He’s a great player and I wish him all the best in Washington. At the same time, I’ve got to best player that I can be … There’s not pressure for a guy when you’ve got LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin and Nick Foles … I just gotta go in there and do my job.”

Okay, that’s fair.

But let’s keep it real here. Eagles fans are expecting. or more accurately, hoping Matthews will have a spectacular enough rookie season to replace Jackson’s 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns from last season. There are still more than a few Birds fans that were upset that the team unloaded Jackson without getting anything in return.

Realistically, it may take a season or two to know what the Eagles really have in the six-foot-three inch, 209-pound Matthews. That said, there’ a lot to like about this kid who seems to have a lot of upside when you look at him on paper and what he did at Vanderbilt.
Matthews is the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leading receiver. During his senior year, Matthews caught 112 passes for 1,477 yard and seven touchdowns. He had five games in which caught 10 or more passes in one of the most physical defensive conferences in the nation.
“I think here saw more man coverage than a lot of other guys. Because I think in that conference, the defensive backs match up,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “The one thing he does is catch the ball in traffic. He made an unbelievable amount of contested catches. You know, he’s got such a wing span and will go up and get it, and can play both inside and outside.”
I saw Matthews in Vanderbilt’s season-opener against Mississippi and he was lights out in the Commodores 39-35 loss. He caught 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He runs good routes and has good hands. He runs a 4.46 40-yard dash.

If there is one thing that you can’t measure in Matthew’s college statistics, you have to take a look at this guy’s heart. This was a kid who came out of high school in Madison, Ala with no major college offers and became the best receiver in the SEC. In fact, the only reason he got a scholarship was because another recruit backed out.

That only served to fuel his motivation during his years at Vanderbilt and that’s why being picked in the second round in the 2014 didn’t faze him.

“I think that edge was already with me coming out of high school. I think that was really the point where that chip really got on my shoulders. It wasn’t like I was being overlooked by some teams, I wasn’t wanted by anybody,” Matthews said. “I ended up where I needed to be.”

Matthews was also successful in the classroom at Vanderbilt.  He graduated with a degree in economics in three and half years.

Oddly enough, Matthews is the third cousin of Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice, who definitely knows something about being a long shot coming from a small school like Mississippi Valley State University. He said he’s learned a lot from the former San Francisco 49ers legend.

“He was definitely influential,” Matthews said. “I think one of the most influential things was watching him as a young child and growing up and being able to study his game and trying to apply some of those things to my game. He has given me some advice and I really appreciate that.”

 

Flyers Withstand Late Rally by Washington in 6-4 Win

6 Mar

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Claude Giroux scored two goals with one assist in win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Claude Giroux scored two goals with one assist in win over Washington. Photo by Webster Riddick.

—In Wednesday’s win over the Washington Capitals, the Flyers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first two periods and appeared to be cruising to an easy win.  They came into the third period with a three-goal lead.

But then the Capitals woke up early in the third period and made things interesting by cutting the lead to one thanks to goals by right winger Alex Ovetchkin and Troy Brouwer. Jakub Voracek’s goal pushed the Flyers back to lead to 5-3 with a little over eight minutes left.

Just when the Flyers thought they had some breathing room, the Capitals closed the gap to within one with six minutes left on a power-play goal by center Brooks Laich who tipped in a shot by defenseman Mike Green.

Somehow by the skin of their collective teeth the Flyers withstood the furious Washington charge and came away with a 6-4 win in front of 19,919 fans at the Wells Fargo Center.

“We were playing well in the first two periods,” said Claude Giroux, who scored two goals and assisted on another score. “In that third period, they became aggressive and we sat back a little bit. We have to make sure that when we get a lead like that we have to keep it.

Steve Downie’s empty-net goal sealed the deal for the Flyers, who improved their record to 33-25-6, in what was the final regular season game between the two bitter rivals.

Head coach Craig Berube didn’t like the way his team took the pedal off the gas after jumping out to a 4-0 lead, especially the penalties they took in the third period.

“I think we have to get better at playing full games on a more consistent basis,” Berube said. “We’re talking about being a more consistent hockey team, not getting too high, not getting too low. Just come out and play our game for 60 minutes.”

In that third period, Washington was 2-for-2 on the power-play and kept the pressure on the Flyers.  Berube said because the Flyers weren’t on the attack in the third, they became susceptible to penalties.

“In this game in the third period, we didn’t have the puck enough,” Berube said. “We compete in the offensive zone with the puck and we have to keep the puck. We try to wear teams down that way.”

Early in the game, it looked like the Flyers were ready to end the competitive portion of this game in the first two periods.  In the first period, they got goals from Giroux and Voracek, who also finished game with two goals, take an early 2-0 lead.

In the second, Giroux scored on an unassisted goal four minutes into the period. Mike Raffl’s goal gave the Flyers what appeared to be an insurmountable lead with 8:08 left in the second. The Capitals pulled goalie Braden Holtby for Phillip Grubauer.

Washington scored its first goal of the game on a goal by right winger Joel Ward with 6:54 left in the second and it appeared to be window dressing in what was looking to be a rout by the Flyers.

But then Ovechkin and the Capitals made things interesting and took advantage of the Flyers lackadaisical play to make things close.

“For two periods, we played an extremely good hockey game and you can’t let your foot off the gas in this league because teams are going to take advantage of it,” said goalie Steve Mason.

Game Plan Foundation Helps former NFL’ers Get Much Needed Help

20 Feb

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

As a player, Leonard Marshall led the New York Giants to Super Bowl titles.  In retirement,  Marshall is helping his retired brethren to enjoy life after football. Photo submitted by Angela Crockett Enterprises, Inc.

As a player, Leonard Marshall led the New York Giants to Super Bowl titles. In retirement, Marshall is helping his retired brethren to enjoy life after football. Photo submitted by Angela Crockett Enterprises, Inc.

During his playing days with the New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Redskins, Leonard Marshall was one of the NFL’s best defensive lineman with a career that included a pair of Super Bowl rings and 83 sacks.

But when he hung up his jersey after 11 years in the game in 1994, Marshall began to notice that all was not well with some of his fellow ex-NFL players. Some were dealing with malingering pain from old injuries that led to addiction to painkillers. Others didn’t have jobs with the health insurance needed to help with their problems. Still others were dealing with serious short-term memory loss.

“Some of the players were divorced and didn’t have the education or skills to earn money,” Marshall said. “They found themselves in a situation where they couldn’t figure out ‘What’s my next step?”

As he talked with more players, this pattern of injury, addiction and memory loss became clearer, Marshall said.

But it was the  tragic death by suicide of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters in 2006 that made Marshall take action. He and Waters had faced off more than once when he played with both the Giants and the Redskins, so the news hit close to home.

“That situation was terrible. That’s what grabbed my attention,” Marshall said. “It was a wake-up call.”

It was then that Marshall decided that it might be time for him to help his fellow retired brethren of the gridiron put together a Game Plan.

In 2008, Marshall formed the Game Plan Foundation to help former NFL’ers connect with the treatment they need. So far, the organization has raised $50,000 and has established partnerships with the medical facilities such as the Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, Fla., and Clifton, N.J.-based P.A.S.T (Pain Alternatives, Solutions Treatment), a medical group that treats former athletes.

Those  facilities provide former players without health insurance or savings the care they need for the physical and mental ailments brought on by the game free of charge.

“About 60 or 70 percent of former players aren’t employed and don’t have the skill set or the ability to function in a job or have a partner that has a job with health benefits,” Marshall said. “I want them to have options for their healthcare.”

The most prevalent ailment among retired players is the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy—or CTE. CTE is a degenerative brain condition caused by an abnormal build up of the protein tau, which strangles the brain cells in the areas that control memory, emotions and other functions. CTE, which doctors say is the result of head trauma, has been linked to dementia and depression.

CTE, which was first discovered by forensic pathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu when he did an autopsy of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Fame center Mike Webster. The suicides of San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, have been connected to CTE.

Marshall was diagnosed, along with former Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Fame running back Tony Dorsett and offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure, with CTE last November after having a test done at UCLA.

This makes the struggle to help the NFL’s retirees  a personal one for Marshall.

“I deal with the signs associated with CTE every day,” Marshall said. “I would get in the car, knew where I was going before I left and then forget where I was going or why I was going and then go back home.”

Marshall said he copes with it by taking supplements, exercise and getting additional therapy with controlling his behavior from P.A.S.T., some of which involve him going through therapy that involves getting oxygen to his brain.

“I have to deal with making good decisions, but I’m still talking and writing. Trying to make things work for Leonard,” he said. “It’s a challenge.”

The reality of CTE is also a concern to current NFL players as well. San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said players are worried about the blows to the head that aren’t diagnosed as concussions.

“You have guys that are worried about the helmets they’re wearing or they’re thinking of the players who are suffering from brain injuries now,” Davis said. “It’s getting better, but guys are still worried about it.  …The thing I think about is do we get concussions even though we don’t have symptoms? How will that affect our health? We’re playing this contact sport and we’re getting concussions, but we’re not having the symptoms.”

Unlike now, where players that get their “bells rung” have to go through a concussion protocol before even thinking of returning to the field, head injuries were the last thing on the league’s mind when Marshall was in his prime, he said.

“They did not educate us on head trauma,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t a part of your annual physical. I never got one as a Jet, Giant or Redskin. That was not a part of the exam.”

During his annual press conference at the Super Bowl, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked by Davis if the league would be willing to give the players free health care for retired players.

This issue made the news recently when a federal judge held up a $765 million settlement of a class action lawsuit filed by more than 4,800 retired players against the NFL. The $765 million wasn’t enough money to help all of the players involved with their needs, Judge Anita Brody said.

Goodell said the league is always looking for ways to improve the health care for its former players. In 2007, the NFL instituted its 88-Plan, which provides retired players suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and ALS with $100,000 annually for long-term care and $88,000 for care at home.

But the NFL can’t make things safer alone. So in an attempt to minimize head trauma, the Game Plan Foundation is also teaching youngsters how to employ tackling techniques that don’t involve using the head.

“We’re trying to come up with new ways of training kids how to play tackle football-blocking and tackling,” Marshall said. “We also want to involve parents in the process of teaching kids how to play.”