Eagles

Rob's Rants: Lombardi on Pederson; Crawford's debut; Rhule's rough start

Rob's Rants: Lombardi on Pederson; Crawford's debut; Rhule's rough start

Here's the latest edition of Rob's Rants in which CSNPhilly's Rob Ellis does just that about the hottest topics in Philly sports.

Qualified opinion
Former NFL general manager and front office member Mike Lombardi pulled no punches when it came to his assessment of Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. Lombardi is now an analyst for The Ringer, and his comments have caused quite a stir locally. At first glance, them’s fightin words. No gray area there. He is not a believer in Doug P. And naturally there are Eagles fans who haven’t taken kindly to Lombardi’s hot take on their coach. 

"Now, everybody knows Pederson isn't a head coach," Lombardi said. "He might be less qualified to coach a team than anyone I've seen in my 30-plus years in the NFL."

The hot takes from fans in and of themselves are ironic considering there was a throaty portion of said fan base who shared those very same sentiments when Pederson was hired and as the team lost seven of its last 10 games in his first season as coach. In a previous life, I fielded a large number of phone calls echoing precisely what Lombardi, an Ocean City, New Jersey native, expressed. Does this mean I agree with Lombardi? 

Yes and no.        
     
I was then and am now concerned that the Eagles' front office and ownership brought in Pederson to recreate some form of the Andy Reid era. A kinder, gentler time of mostly winning, a stark contrast to the choppy, adversarial, screw-your-holiday-party, Chip Kelly regime. I never bought that Reid would cede play-calling in second halves of games to Pederson. It’s difficult to know just how much coaching acumen Pederson actually has. There were losses last year, like the first meeting in Dallas, that were directly on him. There were lapses in judgment like asking your starting quarterback fresh out of concussion protocol to be a lead blocker. These are legit concerns.

But Pederson should be given some rope. He was left with an ill-fitting roster, damaged by Kelly. His receivers were as bad as any team's in the NFL, and half of his secondary was equally inept. His defensive line was not talented enough to get any kind of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He had eight days to prepare a rookie quarterback thrust into the job. None of this was on him. 

And back to the anti-Chip thing. There was something to that. The players had had enough of Kelly. There was a divide in the locker room and the next coach did need to have a better bedside manner than the Chipper. Pederson is well liked by his troops, who appreciate being treated like men.   
 
A case could be made for both sides. And here’s the thing about Lombardi: I’ve never viewed his analysis as some clearly contrived Skip Bayless hot take. His stints in Cleveland and Oakland did not go well, and that certainly opens him up to be questioned. But he knows the league. The proof will be this year. No more rookie excuses, and the talent has been upgraded. Pederson needs to show he is in fact qualified. 
         
Welcome to The Show  
The Phillies absolutely did the right thing bringing up J.P. Crawford right now. There was some debate that he should have stayed with Lehigh Valley as they begin the International League playoffs. But with all due respect to the IronPigs, this is not about them; it’s about the big-league club. I was highly critical of how long the Phillies waited to bring up Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins has shown in his first 25 games he was more than ready. 

Crawford, after an awful start, has been excellent the last two months. The Phils have 25 games left. There's nothing to lose by getting Crawford a taste of the major leagues while also moving some pieces around to get a handle on what you want to do in 2018. And from a fan's standpoint, it’s yet another reason to watch a team that is 33 games under .500.    
 
Give me Liberty?
Matt Rhule’s run at Temple was nothing short of remarkable. He took what Al Golden started and brought the Owls' football program to legitimacy on a national level. So it wasn’t a matter of if but when he would leave for greener ($$$) pastures. But the choice of Baylor seemed a strange one. The program is and has been mired in a sexual assault scandal, among other violations. You share the state with Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. 

You knew it would take some time to clean things up and get the school back to prominence. But losing at home to FCS division Liberty as a 34.5-point favorite? The Fighting Jerry Falwells' quarterback torched the Bears' defense for 447 yards in the air. Could be a long year in Waco for Coach Rhule. Guess the grass isn’t always greener. 

Speaking of upsets, Howard University’s stunning win over UNLV was the biggest point-spread upset ever. The Bison, another FCS team, went off as 45-point underdogs. Howard was 3-19 the last two seasons. If you placed a $100 wager on Howard, your return was a cool $55,000 beans.  

Only in Vegas.     

Upon further review
The chilly, wet, conditions in the Delaware Valley Saturday provided perfect couch potato weather. I watched college football pretty much nonstop for about 14 hours. Honey do’s be damned. It was glorious. 

For the most part. 

The inordinate number of reviews for plays has gotten completely out of control. I understand they want to get every play right. But clear, obvious, no-doubt-about-it plays that even I in a salsa dip coma can see from my couch have to have a two or three-minute look under the hood. Take the Penn State-Akron game. It lasted three hours and twenty-six minutes. The Florida State-Alabama game clocked in at an untidy three hours and fifteen minutes. It kills momentum, flow, brain cells, etc. when these games drag on as long as they do. Less is more and the people in charge need to realize it.     

Beautiful sight
This is anything but a rant; in fact it’s the polar opposite. We tend to focus on the negatives in sports. But what took place in the Western Michigan-USC game this past weekend was what makes sports great. 

Jake Olson lost both of his eyes to cancer and has been blind since the age of 12. He grew up a diehard Southern Cal fan in Huntington Beach, Calif. He dreamed one day of playing for the Trojans. That dream became a reality when he was used as a long snapper on an extra point in USC’s win over W. Michigan. Credit Trojans head coach Clay Helton and his administration with making this happen. 

But a very special assist goes to Western Michigan’s head man, Tim Lester. Helton reached out to Lester via e-mail during the week. Lester was on board and the result was one of the coolest things seen in sports in a while. Olson was allowed to make the snap, untouched by a defender. 

“I didn’t think it was a hard decision at all. It was bigger than the game. I was happy to be a part of it," Lester said to USA TODAY.  

Olson, a junior, was a long snapper in high school and practiced his craft the last two seasons with the Trojans.  

"I just loved being out there. It was an awesome feeling, something that I will remember forever," Olson said to AP.  

Football is the ultimate team sport. You won’t find a better example than this story.

Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

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USA Today Images

Pederson interviewing 2 for Eagles' OC job

While many folks are off for Presidents Day, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is hard at work trying to figure out how to replace Frank Reich. 

Pederson is spending his Monday interviewing running backs coach Duce Staley and wide receivers coach Mike Groh for the Eagles' vacant offensive coordinator position, a league source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN's Tim McManus first reported the news Monday. 

It's possible one or both coaches could take over in some sort of offensive coordinator role. 

Reich left his post as offensive coordinator earlier this month when he accepted the head coaching job in Indianapolis. While it might not seem like an OC who doesn't call the plays has a big role, Reich was a good sounding board for Pederson and seemed to be very-well trusted by the head coach. He also helped put the weekly gameplan together. 

It makes sense that the Eagles don't want to go outside the organization to hire an offensive coordinator. Pederson trusts Staley and Groh and the chemistry inside the NovaCare Complex was tremendous during the Eagles' run to Super Bowl LII. 

Either way, Pederson is going to oversee the offense and call plays. Staley or Groh, if one or both are promoted, will handle some extra responsibility, but it'll still all be on Pederson. 

While Staley has been with the Eagles as a coach since 2011, working his way up from a quality control coach to running backs coach in 2013, Groh is a newcomer. He was added to the staff before the 2017 season to take over for Greg Lewis after the Eagles fired him. Groh did an impressive job last season, particularly with helping transform Nelson Agholor from a bust to one of the team's more explosive weapons. 

LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

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USA Today Images

LeGarrette Blount makes his desire to stay in Philly clear

LeGarrette Blount is fresh off of his third Super Bowl title and second in two years with two different teams. 

It sounds like he doesn't really want to go to a third team in three years. 

Blount, 31, played on a one-year deal worth around $1.25 million with the Eagles in 2017, but is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the new league year starts on March 14. He made it pretty clear on Sunday that he wouldn't mind coming back to Philly for another run. 

"It's early so we'll see," Blount said on NFL Network. 

"Obviously I like it a lot there. They like me a lot there. It's a mutual respect and a mutual agreement thing about how we feel about each other. Obviously, you guys know how I feel about the team, the guys; I love those guys. 

"I can't say enough about Duce (Staley), just for the simple fact for how well I was coached there and how good he helped me understand things. I feel like Duce is one of the best running back coaches, one of the best coaches I've ever had in my entire life. I obviously want to be a part of that for a while, so we'll see how it goes."

Blount began the year as the Eagles' top running back, but lost some of his role once the team traded for former Pro Bowler Jay Ajayi. But Blount still played a significant role in the Eagles' run to winning Super Bowl LII. 

During the season, he was the team's top rusher with 173 carries for 766 yards and two touchdowns. But then in Super Bowl LII, he had 14 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, helping the Eagles to a 41-33 win over his former team, the Patriots. 

The Eagles are going to bring back Ajayi and second-year player Corey Clement. After that, things get murky. Blount and Darren Sproles (coming off injury) are both set to become free agents. 

Blount wasn't shy about his love for the Eagles during his interview on Sunday. He cited trust and how they handled the Ajayi trade with him as big reasons why. 

"They talked to me throughout the process of it happening," Blount said. "They were like, 'we're trading for Jay Ajayi, we just want to let you know.' Like I said, that's obviously another big thing for me, the honesty in that building and how open they are and how they don't keep any kind of secrets for you. They just tell you how it is. It's a big respect thing. Duce was the first person to reach out to me and be like, 'hey, we traded for Jay Ajayi. I just want to let you know.' Again, man, that's why it's a place that I love and I hope to stay there." 

Late in the six-and-a-half minute video, the crew brought out Clement while Blount was answering a question about the rookie. Blount laughed during the middle of his answer, but then got back on track and praised Clement. The two became very close during the 2017 season. 

After Blount's answer, Clement got to chat with his teammate and said getting to work with Blount was a "tremendous opportunity" and would clearly like to keep the core group together in the running back room next season. 

Obviously, it's not up to Clement, but Blount will play a big role and we already know what he thinks of the Eagles.