Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gun Control - What is the Solution?

In light of yesterday's terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I wanted to take a break from my daily sports commentary that I enjoy providing on twitter (@cip23) and sometimes at this blog. Social networks and even the news stations were inundated with outrage and calls for immediate changes to our gun laws.

There were experts on both sides of the argument screaming at each other on the Piers Morgan Tonight show last night. I think that many were losing sight of the fact that 20 families had just lost their small children just before Christmas and countless families are dealing with the loss of their children’s' innocence forever.  Couldn't we all grieve together for at least one day instead of taking sides?

The point that the debate for gun violence needs to move forward is a valid one. I just question whether it was yesterday, in the middle of the fact finding, grief filled moments immediately following the events. I also think that those who just point to stats and say there are too many guns are naive in thinking that this is a solvable problem overnight. What do you think the answer is, get rid of all guns? It just isn't realistic. Come to the table with real solutions.

I, for one, think that the media coverage of these types of events is as much to blame that tragedies like these keep happening as any other contributing factor. I commend Anderson Cooper, of CNN, for purposely not mentioning the suspects name and for covering him as little as possible. I think that other potential killers see the 24/7 coverage that these attacks get and possibly crave that 7-10 days of coverage on countless cable stations.

But the real discussion is guns. Why do we have so many darn guns is the question people keep asking? I will disclose that I am a gun owner. I sleep within 5 feet of a loaded gun. It is locked in a safe where only I can access. I also have long guns that I use to hunt. I believe in responsible gun ownership. When my kids get older, I plan to teach them about gun safety and how to shoot.

I am; however, open to some changes in federal laws. I do think that there can be some common sense changes that everyone should be able to agree. The government let the federal ban on assault weapons expire in 2004. I am not opposed to some form of that ban being reinstated. A limit on size of magazine clips would also be something I would support. I don't, however, think that these will have a major impact on the reduction of gun violence.

The number one thing I am in favor, and do think could have an effect, is the requirement of all States to impose background checks on those trying to purchase firearms. I also think they need to be done even more detailed then are done now. It seems to me that all of these mass killers have some sort of mental history in their past. I would think there could be easily be a link between the databases of the agencies handling the gun permits and those of the medical field that could prevent patients with a questionable mental history from obtaining such permits. I know on the NJ firearm ID card, there are mental health questions but it is easy for anyone to just check "no history". If, during the background check, a doctor had put a red flag in the system, it wouldn't matter what the applicant checked.

There is also the issue of carrying hand guns. Some states allow it, even openly, and others don't. When incidents like the one that happened at Sandy Hook School occur, there is discussion about what if there were someone that was armed, wouldn't it have been better? The opposition to carrying laws say there are studies that say it enrages the killer and more will die. Well I would like to see those studies. Why then are there armed air marshals on most of our airplanes since 9/11? Is that marshal not going to engage a terrorist or other armed person? I think responsible people, who go through training and background checks to become licensed gun carriers are not the issue and to go after that aspect of gun controls is to have a different agenda in my opinion.

Gun control is a complicated issue. If it weren't for the troubled economy over the last 6 or so years, it probably would have been more hotly debated during the last two presidential elections. I don't think any of us have all of the answers. I fall somewhere in the middle of the issue as someone who is a gun owner, believes in gun rights but is in favor of some common sense changes to our laws. I also believe that we need to think outside the box on these mass killings and look at the media coverage and medical fields and find a way to link them into the discussion. We are the greatest country in the world with the offer of the greatest dream. But too many of those dreams are being dashed in an instant and we must make it stop.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Who Will Make the Eagles 53?

Every year there are many articles trying to project each team's 53 man roster that they will take into their first game.  They usually make for a fun read and lets the writer show how close he/she can get to guessing how the team will look.  I always enjoy reading them.  However, this year, I am going to not try to guess which players will make the initial 53 man roster (there will certainly be changes in coming weeks) but will offer who I think should make the team.  I offer for anyone to chime in and give their opinions too.

Quarterbacks (3) - Michael Vick and Nick Foles are certain to make the team and more than likely will be one-two on the depth chart to start the season.  Who will be the third quarterback is the big question.  My vote goes to Trent Edwards.  I think that with the unexpected development of Foles, the Eagles can't rely on two guys that have virtually no experience to back-up the often injured Vick.  That's why I would keep Edwards over Mike Kafka in case Vick gets hurt for an extended time and Foles shows some rookie growing pains once given real time against game planning defenses.

Running Backs (3) - For me, this is a no brainer.  Lesean McCoy, Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown should all be safe.  The shiftiness and explosion that Brown has shown makes him possibly the second best back on the team.  Chris Polk has been impressive but is probably behind these three and it's hard with other roster log jams to keep four RB's.

Full Back (1) - For the first time in many years, the Eagles are considering not keeping a full time full back.  Stanley Havilli has been good in this role but, again; with other positions of strength, you might see them not keep any.  There is also a possibility of keeping Polk and using him in some two back sets.  I would keep Havilli and use him to help lead block since there will be a drop off in the run blocking with the absence of Jason Peters.

Wide Receivers (6) - Jeremy Maclin, Desean Jackson, Riley Cooper, and Jason Avant are all safe.  I think Damaris Johnson is safe too.  He was undrafted but has looked fast and is valuable in the return game.  I think the Eagles should keep Marvin McNutt as the sixth receiver whom they drafted in the 6th round this year which would spell the end of Chad Hall.

Tight Ends (2) - Brent Celek and Clay Harbor are the two tight ends that will play and both will see the field often.  Brett Brackett, the converted Penn State QB/WR, could make this a tough decision.  He has played well this preseaon and if they decide to not go with a full back, he is someone who could be the beneficiary.  I think they can probably squeak Brackett onto the practice squad so that's what I would do.

Offensive Line (9) - For this unflashy and underappreciated group, there is a lot of guys that can play multiple positions.  That helps them keep only nine guys which will allow them keep more defensive lineman.  Demetress Bell, King Dunlap, Todd Herramans, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, and Danny Watkins are all safe.  I don't like giving up on draft picks (the Eagles don't usually either) so I think Julian Vandervelde is safe.  I think the last spot is between Steve Vallos and Dallas Reynolds whom the Eagles have maxed out his use on the practice squad the last few years.  My guess is that they keep Reynolds whom they have groomed as long as possible as the ninth lineman.

Punter (1) - I think the Eagles should keep Matt McBriar as their punter.  I think they are very seriously considering it too but, again; they will be hesitant to give up on a young player that they brought in last year and tried to groom into their long time punter.  McBriar brings lots of experience and some good numbers to the Eagles.

Kicker (1) - Alex Henry will be the kicker this year and expect him to build upon his impressive rookie campaign.

Long Snapper (1) - Jon Dorenbos continues to be one of the top long snappers in the NFL and will enter his seventh season for the Eagles.

Safeties (4) - Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman remain the starters and, to me, the biggest question marks on the team leaving camp.  I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles scan the waiver wire at this position.  Although he was hurt most of camp, I think the Eagles should and will hold onto free agent signee O.J. Atagwe.  The big question is whether or not they will keep 2011 second round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett.  He still doesn't seem to move instinctively but with only three other safeties, I think he is safe.

Corner Backs (5) - Nnamdi Asomugha and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie are the two starters.  Brandon Boykin is fighting veteran Joselio Hanson for the nickel corner spot.  Boykin will be involved in the return game.  If I were making the decisions, I am saying goodbye to Hanson all together.  They Eagles really like Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes so I think they fill out the five CB's while they also give up on third year man Trevard Lindley.

Linebackers (7) - This is a position that the Eagles may load up on players as much for hope of finding guys that may step up as anything.  The starters, as of today, are DeMeco Ryans, Akeem Jordan and impressive rookie, Mychal Kendricks.  Casey Mathews and Jamar Chaney look to be safely on the team, as well.  Brian Rolle, who was the starter at the WILL position until earlier this week is in danger of getting cut but I think he has shown enough big play ability to make the team.  Finally, Kenan Clayton has shown he is a big time special teams player at the very least and should round out this group.

Defensive Ends (5) - So far in this roster, there are some thin spots such as tight ends and even wide receiver.  The depth at defensive end and tackle is the reason.  I would keep the top five defensive ends.  This includes the veteran starters of Jason Babin and Trent Cole, the second group of Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt along with rookie Vinny Curry.  They may choose Daryl Tapp over Hunt and they may also choose to keep all six but I would keep five ends and five tackles especially with the ability of Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox to swing outside if needed.

Defensive Tackle (5) - I think this position became easier in recent days with the addition of Mike Patterson to the PUP list and the knowledge that he may not be back at all this season.  That being said, Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri have looked very solid as the starting group this summer.  First round pick Fletcher Cox will mix in and basically be considered a starter as well.  I would keep Cedric Thorton and Antonio Dixon as well.  Thorton has looked great in camp and Dixon has been a good run stopper through the years which they will miss without Patterson.  If they decide to keep six ends and only four tackles, I would keep Thorton and waive Dixon.

There you have the 53 man roster I would submit to the league office come this Friday.  It will be interesting to see what happens and, as usual, the intial 53 man roster will change many times throughout the year, sometimes even between submission and the first kickoff.

Feel free to add comments here, on Facebook or Twitter with your own picks at some of the bubble positions, would love to hear them!


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Browns Game Observations

Here are my thoughts about the Eagles thru their first three preseason games.
  • Overall I'd say that the rookie class has been the story thus far.  It's still early but it already looks like this draft class could rival and even surpass the 2009 group that yielded Jeremy Maclin, Shady McCoy, Moises Fokou, Brandan Gibson, and the picks used to acquire Jason Peters. So far Nick Foles has been the story of camp and maybe one of the big stories of the preaseson.  His poise, accuracy, intelligence and arm strength are not just a mirage.  This goes along with Mychal Kendricks,, who is always near the ball and first round pick Fletcher Cox who will be part of the tackle mix.  Add in Vinny Curry, Dennis Kelly, Brandon Boykin, and Bryce Brown, all of which could see playing time as rookies.
  • I tried to isolate on Demeteess Bell during the Brown's game.  He looked slow and unathletic.  He was beaten on two plays in a row, one a running play, one in pass coverage.  If he can't be a solid tackle, the offensive line could be mediocre at best.  King Dunlap has been nothing more than a journeyman in his career.  This is no way to protect Michael Vick's blind side.
  • I continue to be impressed with the defensive line.  No matter who is in, they are bringing pressure.  I really think when they are playing games that count and a few blitzes and stunts are mixed in, this team will create a lot of sacks and turnovers.
  • I think 2010 first round pick, Brandon Graham, is ready for his breakout year.  After two injury plaqued years, he looks healthy and very quick.  I predict, if he can stay healthy, he will accumulate around 8 sacks in a rotation role.
  • Could Bryce Brown be the steal of the draft?  After not playing much college ball but being rated the top running back out of high school, the Eagle's brass did their homework and were impressed with what they found.  He looks like the second best back on the team and could be a good compliment to McCoy.
  • I think that the special teams will be much improved in 2012.  With the addition of Boykins and undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson (another player that needed significant research after embezzlement charges ruined his senior year at Tulsa), the return game should be much improved.  Between the improved return game and the development of second year kicker Alex Henry, the special teams should help steal a game or two this year.
  • With Trent Edwards playing solid so far, I think there is a real chance that Mike Kafka gets cut.  This would also allow the team to have a more veteran back-up in case Foles faltered during a long term injury to Vick.
  • Phillies mix in - When did Kyle Kendrick and Roy Halladay switch bodies?  Halladay has looked very human all season.  Kendrick has a 0.82 ERA in his last three starts and that was only because of a two run homer that ended a 21 inning scoreless streak.
I will be projecting the final Eagles roster later this week, or at least what I think it should be.  Feel free to give your feedback, even disagreements.  Would love to hear your opinions.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Patriots Game Observations

Here are my thoughts about the Eagles and their pre-season game against the Patriots.

  • Nick Foles continues to impress.  And I mean REALLY impress.  He showed incredible poise for a rookie, a strong arm and toughness to hang in the pocket under pressure.  I do remember feeling similar about Bobby Hoying but there was something much more fake about those expectations.
  • This has to be the deepest defensive line in the NFL.  They just keep coming after the quarterback.  The second and third teams too.  They have some serious number issues with how many ends and tackles to keep because unless there are injuries, there are two or three guys getting cut that will end up playing on other teams.
  • Phillip Hunt had the best game amongst the lineman.  I thought Fletcher Cox looked good too.
  • Mychal Kendricks is a total beast!  He was all over the ball right from the first snap.  Can you imagine him turning into a Terrell Suggs type playmaker?
  • Demetress Bell has looked totally lost in limited action so far.  Not playing with instinct at all. 
  • Both starting corners looked solid.  I really think they will have a much better season in a man to man system.
  • Demeco Ryans through two games has not been the game changer that all Eagles fans were hoping he would be.
  • I loved seeing some fire out of Big Red when calling out his defense.
  • The Eagles have got to get better on 3rd down.  They will lose every game if they keep giving up 3rd down conversions especially via penalty.
  • These replacement refs have got to go.  If not, we are in for a lot of 4 hour games this year.
  • Ryan Howard has 13 RBI's in his last 12 games.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Would The Real Chase Utley Please Stand Up?

Like most Phillies fans, I lived for Harry Kalas play by play calls. There were so many favorites. My personal favorite of all time was the Mike Schmidt 500th home run call against the Pirates. I know exactly where I was and remember hearing it and running outside to make sure my dad heard it too. Right up there with that call is the "Chase Utley, YOU ARE THE MAN!" call ( I loved everything about the call. It was hip, it was spontaneous and it was a bit out of the box for Harry who liked his coined phrases.

Soon after Utley scored from second on that weak grounder to the pitcher which caused that praise from Harry, Chase Utley was cemented as a legend in Philadelphia. He had always played "the right way". He always hustled, he never asked for a day off and frankly for a few years, he put up numbers comparable to the greatest second basemen of all time.
The only problem was that his statistics had already started to decline by 2009. Since he had become the full time starter in 2005, Utely hadn't hit below .291. However, from 2009-2011, he hit .282, .275, and .259 respectively. Power numbers had a similar decline with his slugging percentage going .508, .445, .425 during the same span.
So were we just witnessing a 30 year old experiencing a normal decline or was this the result of a chronic knee problem?  In 2011, at the start of spring training, we found out that he was struggling with a sore right knee.  Some fancy unpronounceable condition that surgery would likely only make worse. This kept him out of the lineup until May 23rd. He played the rest of the season and just wasn't himself as noted by the stats above. However, entering into the offseason, many thought the time off would provide him the rest he needed to come back in 2012 possibly stronger with the ability to properly strengthen his legs.
Then the bombshell hit at the start of 2012 spring training that his left knee was bothering him. This news disseminated out of camp at a snail’s pace. Was it the Phillies putting the cork on the information or Utley himself? As we have come to learn, Utley was not only keeping the information quiet from the media, he was not being open with his condition to the ball club. The Phil’s management was just as surprised that he would end up missing the first 76 games. At times when Ruben Amaro Jr. would speak to the media, he sounded as distraught at his lack of knowledge of how Utley felt and his overall condition as the situation itself.  Was all of this just Utley's crusty personality or is something more sinister?
One of my favorite Eagles as a kid was Mike Quick. He was tall, fast and could out work his opponents for the ball. However, he also was very well known for not being much of a fan of training camp or practice. Is it possible that for all of the love that we have bestowed on Utley for his work ethic over the years, he might be one of those players too? Might he just want to play 90-100 games per year instead of 162 at this stage in his career on achy knees?
One thing is bound to be sure starting tonight. This is the first time there are at least a few doubters out there about him as a warrior and whether he still has top level ability. He also is carrying expectations, mostly by himself for the time being, to get this team back on track. The legend that was cemented by Harry when he certainly was the man might be in jeopardy. However, the great thing about sports is that the games are played on the field and we will find out in the next few months who Chase Utley really is.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rube, Where Are You?

As this 2012 Phillies season nears the halfway point, I am searching for proof that their General Manager is still alive and well. Other than the every few days health update for the walking wounded, do we have any proof that Ruben Amaro Jr. is actually still doing his job?

This season certainly hasn't gone the way anybody thought it would, especially Amaro Jr. When he traded Wilson Valdez back in January, he certainly couldn't have known that Chase Utley had a bad enough left knee that he would not play a game prior to June 27th. He couldn't have thought that through June 26th, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee would have 4 wins between them and Halladay would be on the 15 day DL. He couldn't have thought that Ryan Howard would still barely be running on June 25th after needing a second surgery on his repaired achilles tendon. He couldn't possibly think that, other than Jonathan Papelbon, the bullpen would have a combined ERA of 4.84 which ranks 29th in MLB.

Certainly Amaro Jr. can't take the blame then for the Phillies being nine games out after 74 games played, right? Well, let's examine the details of that 4.84 ERA from the bullpen. Amaro Jr. Went out and signed Papelbon to a 4 year 50 million dollar contract in the offseason, a record contract for a reliever. Other than him struggling in non save situations, he has been very good. He also brought in journeyman Chad Qualls to be a set-up man. This move has proved disasterous, as Qualls has struggled mightily in the first half. Antonio Bastardo has also struggled trying to adapt from a lefty specialist to a full 7th or 8th inning man. They have also had multiple season ending injuries to guys like Michael Stutes, David Herndon, and Jose Contreras.

This is where Amaro Jr. comes in. At a time where the team desperately needs a morale boost. Just when like Utley is coming back and Howard not too far either, this team needs badly to rely on its management to provide that boost. Not just in morale but in wins. Strong teams are won at the back end of the bullpen. Take Sunday's early game for example. Cole Hamels pitched very well for 7 innings. Charlie Manual was hoping to get Qualls and Bastardo through the 8th and have Papelbon close it out in the 9th. Bastardo proceeded to walk two and then give up a three run homer. This led to losing both ends of a double header and the series loss.

The bullpen deficency has been present all season, it's not new. Amaro Jr. needs to go out a get some help. Not from Jake Diekman, who appears to have good stuff, but clearly needs more minor league seasoning. He needs to go get a Brett Myers or another experienced arm. But this should have been done a month ago before 4-5 games have been given away at the hands of this deficient bullpen. Has the contract to Papelbon prevented the financial flexibility of years past to allow such moves? Only the GM knows why he has yet to act in attempt to save this sinking ship.

Now, as Halladay and Utley and Howard all start to come back and the real possibilty of the team stringing wins together, the reality of Manual having no one to go to between starter and Papelbon very well may prevent the seventh straight postseason for the Phils. Ruben Amaro Jr. has had and still has a chance to change that by making the first move(s) by imrpoving the bullpen immediately.

Rube, as one famous sports figure in this town loves to say, the time is yours. The only problem is that it is very quickly running out for 2012.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is it Time To Panic for Phils Season?

Like many Phillies fans out there, I haven't been real comfortable with the start of the 2012 season.  Something about this year's slow start felt different than others in their recent past.  Maybe it is the fact that there seem to be gaping holes in the lineup similar to Andy Reid's failure to have an adequate punt returner or fullback to start a season.  Maybe it's the fact that there is a new Natitude in the division with all four of the teams seeming to have gotten better.

So during my down time in worrying about the Flyers sudden collapse, I have decided to analyze the Phils of recent years and also what they appear to have coming back.  What I have found is pretty remarkable and have decided that it is time for all of us to relax and enjoy what the next four plus months will be providing.

First, I looked at their record.  As of May 8th, the Phils stand at 14-16.  For all intents and purposes, this is .500 for this analysis.  Since 2007, the Phils have finished April below or just above (no more than 2 games over) .500 every year except for last year.  In 2007, their first year of their current playoff run, they finished April 11-14.  More or these numbers coming up.

This week also provided good injury news for the team.  We learned this past Saturday that Chase Utley was re-joining the team.  It sounds like he is going to be with them for about a week and then head down to Clearwater to not just rehab but possibly start playing extended spring training games.  So although the Phils have refused to give a timetable on Utley, is June 15th or even June 1st out of the question?

Ryan Howard has already started back in Florida and had a full week rehabbing last week and as of yesterday started taking batting practice.  All indications from the team so far have been that the Achilles itself is in good condition.  Could Howard make a trip north sometime in mid June?  By the way, if after the dust settled after Game 7 last year and you were asked if Howard could come back sometime in June, would you have taken it?  I sure would have.

Lastly, is Cliff Lee.  He threw a bullpen session on Saturday and reported no issues.  The Phils currently have him scheduled to start against the Mets Wednesday night.

What does all of this mean?  Will then win 100 games because these guys seem to be coming back soon?  I doubt it.  But Lee helps immediately.  The Phils lost all three game Kendrick started in his place and putting him back into a suspect bullpen can only help. 

Will Howard and Utley be their 2009 versions when they come back?  I doubt that too but just their presence would really help this lineup. For one, it will put guys back into their more natural batting order.  It will also give Charlie Manual a chance to move Ty Wiggington, about the only guy hitting consistently, to left field, a spot the Phils have gotten very little production so far.

Going back to the numbers, where do the Phils need to finish to make the playoffs and will they need to play .700 ball to make it?  Not at all.  Going back to 2007, the Phils have averaged playing .594 ball from June 1st on.  For the sake of argument, let's say they are at .500 by the end of this month, putting them at 21-21.  With 120 games left to play, the .594 clip would finish them 71-51 for a record of 92-72.  Those 92 wins might not win the division but since 2003, it would have at least gotten a tie for the National League wild card every season.

I think instead of panic, we should hope for the healthy return of Lee, Howard and Utley.  We should hope that RAJ can add some bullpen help at the trade deadline and that they play how they have played the second half in recent years.  If so, we will be biting our nails in October for the sixth straight year.