By Bill Campbell

Chip Kelly’s Picks

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So far, I like Chip Kelly. I particularly like the way he talks. No nonsense about him. For instance, he recently said when talking about his first round draft pick, Lane Johnson, “The game of football is won up front. Lane Johnson is another tough, physical guy.” That’s why he expects Johnson, an offensive tackle from Oklahoma, to help the Birds. “That’s what we were looking for as we went into this draft,” Kelly explained. He thinks that’s what he’s got.

Lane Johnson, 6/6″, 303 lbs., said he came into the draft thinking the Eagles were among a handful of teams – along with Arizona, San Diego, Detroit and Miami – who might take him. When Miami traded up, he thought that was his destination but soon afterwards a 215 Area Code call showed up on his phone and then his situation was quickly clarified. Johnson said he knew that Oregon under Kelly ran a very fast-paced offense and he said, “I think I fit with what they need.” At the end, the Eagles’ draft lined up like this:

  1. Lane Johnson – Offensive Tackle, Oklahoma
  2. Zach Ertz – Tight end, Stanford
  3. Bennie Logan – Defensive Tackle, LSU
  4. Matt Barkley – Quarterback, USC
  5. Earl Wolff – Defensive Back, N.C. State
  6. Joe Kruger – Defensive End, Utah
  7. Jordan Poyer – Defensive Back, Oregon State
  8. David King – Defensive Back, Oklahoma

The Kelly Draft indeed represented a comforting change from the Eagles’ drafts of the recent past. It leads me to believe that the new coach really is the captain at the wheel rather than the general manager, though that observation might be a bit premature. A more reasoned review and analysis will come sometime in October or November, when we see what this new coach has put together. As for the draft, Kelly said, “It’s over and done within three days. You’re on the plane with sixteen-year-old kids in that area for a few years. Three days and it’s done. There’s nothing else you can say about it.” It took Chip Kelly about the same amount of time to decide who would play for him at Oregon. The kids are a bit older here. But the question is the same: mainly, can he play or can’t he? Kelly picked eight players in three days. Their true value won’t be realized till the season starts. Bet there was a big difference in his method and that of Andy Reid. No hesitation or waiting to see if there was one more option out there. He was decisive and sure. Is it possible that the coach made it clear to the Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie who would run the draft and the kind of players he wanted on the field? It sure looked that way. Kelly seems to think in terms of size, weight, height, speed length, hand size. He focuses on the basics. And he seems to carry the wisdom of that old adage about the advantage of big people – they beat up little people. He wants the big guys, the right big guys, on the field.

The NFL Draft Overall

We’ll remember the 2013 draft, for a long time, as the draft that was dominated by linemen. The first round included 18 linemen, one quarterback and – for the first time since 1963 – no running backs.

The Minnesota Vikings went all out by the numbers with three first round picks. Based on their picks, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens made up their minds to replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The New York Jets added another quarterback to a position that has haunted them for a long time by picking up Geno Smith in the second round – and Tim Tebow has been sent packing. The Kansas City Chiefs, now coached by Andy Reid, chose as its number one overall pick an offensive tackle from Central Michigan, Eric Fisher. But overall, teams loaded up on linemen making big and beefy guys the stars of this draft.

No team caused more chatter, however, than the Minnesota Vikings who got to the playoffs last year led by MVP Adrian Peterson. They traded four selections to New England to move up into round one and take Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson after grabbing Florida defensive tackle, Sharrif Floyd, and Florida State corner back, Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings may have the make-up of a playoff team again.

So the NFL went light on glamour at the skill positions and the big guys, able either to get their guy down or to protect those precious, speedy passes, were the most coveted players. Former Denver Bronco, John Elway, called this draft “deep in the trenches”, suggesting that it contained a lot of good players to fill the “trench” positions with little glitz but a lot of guts. We’ll see how it all works out.

The Flyers

Having already been eliminated from playoff consideration, the Flyers cleared out their lockers on the last day of the regular season vowing to return a bigger, better team next year. According to General Manager, Paul Holmgren, they also will return with the same coach, Peter Laviolette, who has two years remaining on his contract. Holmgren said that Laviolette will be back despite a poor 2013 season.

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Before season’s end, however, the team paid a fitting, emotional tribute at the Wells Fargo Center last Tuesday night to the city of Boston before facing off against the Bruins. The Flyers posted a sign which read, “From One Tough Town to Another” and honored the first responders and police who had rushed to the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Flyers wore “Boston Strong” patches on their jerseys and stickers on their helmets and the crowd united in supporting our New England neighbors. A class act, for sure.

The Flyers finished 23-22-3, missing the playoffs for only the second time and for the first time since 2007. Holmgren said he had no doubt that the coach was still getting his message through to the players after nearly four seasons. “I think our players played hard till the end,” he said, “I think Peter is a strong motivator, a strong tactician, and I expect him to lead our team back into the playoffs next year.”

Winger Scott Hartnell made another plea for management to improve their defense during the off-season, saying. “We didn’t score as many goals as we did last year but we gave away too many 5-on-4 goals.” Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is still upset over reports that she spelt during a recent team meeting and again criticized the media, saying, “You guys just have to blame someone. You never look yourselves in the mirror, eh? You never make mistakes? Your articles are always perfect. In reality, what have you done for this city? If you ask yourself, what have you done besides only criticize? Not much.” Sounds like the goalie is ready for a rest. Danny Briere expects to be dealt or have the Flyers buy out his contract but the club hasn’t approached him about waiving his no-trade clause. He commented, “I’ve said all along, my family is here, my kids are here. This is my first choice. This is where I want to be but I understand it’s a business so we’ll see what happens.”

One of the Flyers’ big problems this season was inadequate replacement players. The offense missed Scott Hartnell, who had produced 37 goals in the previous season but missed this one after suffering a broken foot in the third game of the season. He missed sixteen games and never regained his form and there was no one as effective to replace him. Looking ahead, Coach Laviolette said, “I still think that is a good hockey team. It’s a young team but will continue to learn and, hopefully, over the summer will heal from injuries and come back a year older and wiser.”

In the rest of the NHL, the Ottawa Senators grabbed the seventh seed in the East. Montreal and New York will match up into eighth and a first round series against Pittsburgh. The Colorado Avalanche fired coach, Joe Sacco, after the season ended with Colorado missing the playoffs for the third straight season. They never got anything out there in this shortened season and felt a change was needed. So it’s on to the playoffs, which we’ll be watching on television.

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz, better known as “Chooch”, has the chance to really help the Phillies and in more ways than one. His return to the daily line-up will have an obvious impact. But in their first thirty games the Phillies have shown a void in leadership. Last year, Ruiz seemed to take on that role to a degree. I’m hoping his return will cause him to do the same. He works hard, has a good sense of humor and he shows a real respect and affection for the game. He keeps himself in good physical condition, in season and off. All qualities of a real leadership. He just might be the missing piece the club has been searching for. The twenty-five game suspension for using Adderall, a banned substance, without a doctor’s prescription became a bit of a dagger point for a team that staggered out of the gate for the second consecutive season.

Remember when the Phils played the early part of the 2010 season without Jimmy Rollins, followed by 2011 and Chase Utley’s mysterious knee problems? Then last year both Utley and Ryan Howard opened the season on the DL which pretty much sealed the Phillies’ season. They were out of contention by the All Star break. The run of five straight National Leage East titles ended due to missing injured players who could not be replaced. Ruiz meant a lot to the pitching status – both the rotation and the bullpen – and Chooch had his best year in 2012 with his bat. Over the last two years, the Phillies rarely had Ruiz, Utley and Howard on the field at the same time and those absences were costly. They started only twenty-three games together last year because, shortly after Utley and Howard returned, Ruiz went out with a foot injury. The team has a winning percentage of 602 when the trio plays together – 539 when they don’t. So once you do the math, you can see how essential Ruiz’s return is in so many ways.

It was expected that Chase Utley’s questionable knees would affect his future more than that of anyone but Utley is playing well. Howard has become the position player or most concern, running as he once did before his major surgery for a torn Achilles more than a year ago. On the pitching front, Roy Halladay appeared to have been pitching better coming off a brutal Spring until he got pummeled by Cleveland last night. The failings of the bullpen haven’t helped him so far. The biggest shock in April was the poor start of Cole Hamels who only got his first win a few days ago. Overall, pitching handed the Phillies a sour apple to chew on for the month and they’re glad to turn the calendar to May.

As for Ruiz, he’s thirty-four years old and will be potential free agent after this season. Some may speculate whether he can perform as well without Adderall as he did while using it. I’m going to leave that to the speculators and hope that he will come back, play like he can play and lead.

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