By Bill Campbell
Quarterback, Matt Barkley, a former Southern Cal standout, got his first pro start against the New York Jets last night in the Eagles’ fourth pre-season outing. The Birds won it resoundingly, 37-7. Barkley, who was picked up by the Birds in the 2013 draft, had a good showing, playing for three quarters, completing 21 of 23 passes for 253 yards. He was surrounded by a batch of second-teamers who hope to make the squad. Coach Chip Kelly and his coaching staff must be struggling over those decisions right now.
Last weekend, Kelly had announced that he planned to keep both Barkley and Matt Sanchez as backups for starting QB Nick Foles when the season opens. That means G.J. Kinne will be released. Foles already has begun his preparations for Week One and Kelly said that he has seen enough of the other two quarterbacks to have confidence in them. Barkley acknowledged before Thursday night’s game that it was a big chance for him and that he was excited to know that he would start in Foles’ place. He hadn’t started a game since his senior year at USC and he knew that his career to date has been defined by the two mid-season appearances he made last year against the Giants and the Cowboys. Although Barkley remembers that he hadn’t had any practice reps either week and was throwing to unfamiliar receivers in both games, he also knows that all that Eagles’ fans remember about those two outings is that he threw four interceptions, three fumbles and put no points on the board in 46 attempts. His start on Thursday night wasn’t just a chance to show his coaches what he can do. It was also a chance to remind Philadelphia that he has more to offer than that. Barkley said, “I’m excited to show the Philadelphia fans what I can do and I thank Coach Kelly for the chance.” Kelly acknowledged that he needs to see more of his other alternate, Sanchez, before he can determine how to use him. Sanchez has said he’s trying “to be accurate, get rid of the ball at the proper time and, hopefully, the big play will come.”
Last night we saw that Alex Henery has some very stiff competition in the person of kicker Cody Parker, who made two field goals against the Jets, one from 53 yards and the other from 54. Undrafted rookie Henry Josey turned in a solid performance, gaining 121 yards on 22 carries. Demaris Johnson rushed five times for 69 yards and ran 46 yards for a touchdown. While Nate Allen has the starting spot at safety pinned down, last night Earl Wolff forced a fumble with a great tackle, putting his helmet on the ball and knocking it out. He’s one to watch.
Last Saturday, the Eagles released fourteen players three days ahead of the deadline. There were no real surprises in the group. “We just didn’t feel it was beneficial to the players to have them practice with us Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, then cut them in the afternoon on Tuesday,” said Coach Kelly. “We’ll give them a chance – I don’t know if there is – to see if they can catch on with somebody else. It’s tough to bring somebody in Tuesday at 4 o’clock and bring them in and get them ready to play on Thursday. That’s just the approach we took with this group.” The biggest name on the list of released players was linebacker Jake Knott, who played in 12 games for the Eagles last season. Knott, who played mostly on special teams, was facing a four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. Defensive end Alejandro Villanueva, the former Army Ranger trying to resume his football career after stints in Afghanistan, also was released. The deadline for cutting to the final 53-man roster is this Saturday at 4:00 p.m.
The presence of the talented left-handed pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, prompted Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg to adopt a different approach in Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Nationals. The tweaking helped the Phils take that one, 4-3. Ditching Monday’s lineup, he added four names and two of them made quite a difference. Freddy Galvis started at second base, his first major league start since early May. In the fifth inning, he smashed a chest-high fastball for a two-run homer. Darin Ruf started for the third time in ten games and he knocked a Gonzalez fastball in for a homer in the sixth. A familiar name, that of veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, hit an eighth-inning sacrifice fly to seal a win for the Phils, 4-3. It was their sixth victory in eight games. In the top half of that inning, the Nats had cracked Cole Hamels to tie the game, though Hamels had needed just 59 pitches for six shutout innings to that point. Fortunately, Galvis and Ruf provided the needed support to put this one in the “w” column. Hamels was taken out in the eighth though he expressed his disagreement with Sandberg’s decision to pull him. But Ken Giles came in to strike out the side in thirteen pitches and bounce off the mound in celebration. Can it be that the bank of young players we’ve been told by the Phillies front office to count on might just start to come through? Sandberg might as well play them till the end of this season. Let’s see what they’ve got.
Adding to the sweetness of this win was the fact that it had been preceded on Monday night by a fine outing from Phils right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett, who struck out twelve in seven innings for a 3-2 victory. Cody Asche and Carlos Ruiz homered in that one. Asked about his performance, Burnett said that he had made an adjustment. “I just noticed something with my delivery, or the leg kick. I just noticed something wasn’t right. I was like, ‘That’s not me out there. Who is that?’” Tweaking his kick made the difference, he added, “It’s the first time I felt like me in a long time.” It was Burnett’s first win since the All Star break, allowing one run on three hits for the second time in fourteen games and taking him to 7-14. Domonic Brown also had two hits and an RBI in that one.
On Wednesday night, pinch-hitter Grady Sizemore hit the go-ahead two-run homer in the sixth inning to help the Phillies beat the Nats 8-4 and sweep the series. Marlon Byrd hit a two-run homer and Jimmy Rollins hit a solo shot to get the win for pitcher Kyle Kendrick (7-11). Kendrick, always a concern this season in the opening inning, allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings. This was the Phils’ best home stand of the season. “We’re scoring runs, starting pitching has been good and the bullpen is putting up zeroes,” Kendrick said afterwards. “Everyone is doing their jobs.” It may be too late for this year, but it’s a better way to start September. RHP David Buchanan (6-7, 4.21) will start tonight in the opener of a three-game series at the New York Mets. He’s 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA against the Mets. We’ll see what the weekend brings us in sports to talk about next week.
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