By Bill Campbell
Eagles fans have been almost overwhelmed by the number and quality of the new faces arriving at Lehigh during the shortened training camp. It has fueled the fans’ anticipation as they visualize winning results. The personnel additions have produced unusual depth at various positions, assuming that most of the new candidates stay healthy – which, in football, is asking a lot. And most times such depth creates problems in decision-making.
For instance, at the corner positions there is some interesting competition on the horizon. And some difficult decisions must be made. One guy on the spot is Joselio Hanson, an experienced and skilled player who is being pushed by second-year player Trevard Lindley and a young rookie, Curtis Marsh, who has impressed. All of them got work in the first pre-season game and their battle for playing time may last up to opening day. To the moment, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha and Assante Samuel, all Eagles all-star corners, have shared some of the first team snaps in the nickel. Rodgers-Cromartie can also play on the outside, which allows Asomugha to line up over the tight end – which not only provides coverage but also provides a speedy blitzer. The summer spending spree on personnel will make for terrific and even crucial decision-making at the composition of the final roster.
On the offensive line, Ryan Harris looked like he was the favorite at right tackle but he has developed some back spasms. He injured his back during a field goal attempt in last week’s game and has had other back problems in the past. With Winston Justice still on the physically-unable-to-perform list, King Dunlap and Evan Mathis have drawn more notice. Austin Howard and Fenuki Tupuo have been used on occasion with Howard backing up Jason Peters at left tackle. Jamaal Jackson, the 31-year-old starting center, has had some knee tendonitis. He’s trying to come back from season-ending knee surgery last year, moving rookie Jason Kelce momentarily on to the first team at that spot. And there are the mysterious cases of defense tackle Mike Patterson and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to be solved.
Almost two weeks ago, Patterson suffered a seizure at Lehigh. Encouragingly, he’s back on the practice field but is limited only to conditioning drills. Maclin has not practiced at all because of an illness that the Eagles have been late in identifying. He’s left camp and gone to his home in St. Louis where he’s expected to undergo more testing. Maclin’s surrogate father is a doctor and it is expected that the St. Louis medical community will be handling Maclin’s diagnosis and treatment. Andy Reid has no current update on Maclin’s condition or his football future. Without Maclin or DeSean Jackson to share wide receiver duties, the practice time has fallen fully to Riley Cooper and Jason Avant so they will be happy to see Maclin and Jackson whenever they arrive. The up side facing all these roster decisions is always the trading avenue. General Managers are always talking and it’s always possible that the guy who doesn’t make your squad may be able to make someone else’s squad – and a good player can be acquired in the exchange. As Andy Reid put it, “People are always calling in this business, always asking and all of that. It’s a big part of the game.” With this plethora of cornerbacks, the rumors continue to escalate that one of the three could be moved. And the same theory could be applied to other positions.
One of the highlights of any season is the annual Old Timers’ Weekend staged by the Phillies. This is especially true for those of us who go back a few years. We have the chance to renew old friendships, which is always enjoyable. This year’s event renewed a lot of pleasant memories of days shared with people like Jim Bunning, Dick Allen, Mike Schmidt, Tony Taylor, Rick Wise, Steve Carlton and others. I thought that the comments of Rick Wise were worthy of consideration. He said that he loved the era in which he played. He called it “pure baseball” saying “that it probably lacked the exposure that it now receives but it was a simpler game and made for a simpler life for those who played the game and even for those who watched it.” In the 1960’s there were just 20 major league teams – 10 fewer than today. Instead of wild card teams and division winners, only the pennant winners advanced to the post-season and immediately into the World Series. As Wise put it, “It was winner take all. You still had to grind it out over 162 games for 6 months.”
Prior to the installation of John Kruk in the Phillies Wall of Fame, it had only three occupants: Bunning, Carlton and Schmidt, which might have created some controversy. Bunning, who came to the Phillies in a trade with Detroit for outfield Don Demeter, had some golden moments on the Phillies’ mound including a perfect game in 1964. But the former United States Senator from Kentucky has had many golden moments on the home front about which he frequently reminds me. Jim and his wife, Mary, are the proud parents of 9 children, all graduates of the University of Kentucky. And they are the equally proud grandparents of 42 grandchildren, about whom he talks with great pride. That achievement alone could be enough to gift himself with a Wall of Fame all his own.
I mentioned in a blog several weeks ago that Jim Thome, who saw some brief time with the Phillies, was on the brink of baseball immortality. It was good news because Jim Thome has been one of the best-liked players in the game. At the time, he had 597 lifetime home runs and was attempting to become only the eighth man in major league history to hit 600. It may not be news to you but I’m happy to report that Jim achieved his goal. He hit 334 of his home runs with the Cleveland Indians, 96 with the Phillies and also spent three-and-a -half seasons with the Chicago White Sox. He’s now is his second season as the designated hitter with the Minnesota Twins. Jim was a Phillie from 2003 through 2005 and signifies the beginning of the era in which the Phillies decided to spend some real money for talent – the results of which we are now enjoying. Thome has always been a class act. And everyone connected with the game shares in his success and achievement. His successor at first base with the Phillies has been Ryan Howard, who has hit a home run or two since Thome left.