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11 things I think at Eagles training camp

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11 things I think at Eagles training camp

With training camp roughly two weeks old, and the Eagles' first preseason game approaching Thursday, it's time to review what we've learned. We're going position by position, Peter King style, with 11 things I think so far at camp.
 
1. I think the area Carson Wentz has shown the most improvement is his accuracy down the field. Wentz has looked sharp in general, especially when Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have both been on the field. But where Wentz has really excelled is throwing deep, touch passes. I can't tell you how many times he has hit a wide receiver perfectly in stride, over the outside shoulder, 30-40 yards downfield this camp. There have been plenty of occasions where Eagles cornerbacks have OK position, to only get beaten by a perfect pass. All of the offseason work on mechanics is clearly paying off for Wentz.
 
2. I think Wendell Smallwood is going to have a larger role in the offense than people realize. Smallwood looks explosive and physical running with the football, and smooth as a receiver out of the backfield. "Thrashing" is how Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich described the second-year back the other day, and I agree. Meanwhile, none of LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles or Donnel Pumphrey are traditional three-down backs. Smallwood could be. He won't be the workhorse, and he may even wind up being out-snapped by both Blount and Sproles. But Smallwood is definitely going to be in the mix, especially if he's improved in pass protection. I think we see quite a bit more Smallwood than Pumphrey, and he could wind up with the most touches out of the whole bunch before the season ends.
 
3. I think Nelson Agholor is having a fantastic training camp. But I thought Agholor was having a fantastic training camp in 2015 and 2016, too, and we all saw how much that mattered. The one thing I can say for certain about Agholor is he is noticeably bigger compared to last season. I also think he's a much better position to succeed under Eagles wide receivers coach Mike Groh. Yet as far as Agholor's performance in practice, I don't think it's light years different than what we've seen in the past. And as for his newfound confidence and focus, we won't have a read on that until it's Week 1 and he has to do perform in front of 70,000 people.
 
4. I think the Billy Brown hype train came off the tracks before it gained any steam. I understand the excitement. A converted wide receiver from DII Shepherd University, Brown packs tremendous athleticism into a 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame. Apparently, he really stood out when it was only rookies and selected veterans on the field. I haven't really seen nor heard too much from Brown since. He's a practice-squad candidate. Nobody is going to stash a raw project on their 53, and he hasn't done anything to warrant a spot over Brent Celek or Trey Burton.
 
5. I think Dillon Gordon could see quite a bit of action as the sixth offensive lineman in heavy packages and occasionally at fullback as well. The Eagles used Matt Tobin quite a bit as a sixth O-lineman last season, but Gordon is a more logical fit for that role. He's a converted tight end, therefore doubling as a legitimate receiving threat, and he's been catching a bunch of passes in camp. And Beau Allen lined up at fullback last season, but it's unclear when he'll return from injury. Gordon has outstanding athleticism for a man his size (6-4, 322), so much so that it would be a shame if the Eagles don't use it.
 
6. I think the additions of Derek Barnett and Tim Jernigan give the Eagles a scary-good defensive line. Barnett has the potential to make an immediate contribution, and even if he begins his career as a reserve, as expected, the Eagles are four-deep and at defensive end with Chris Long also in the mix there. And I suspect Jernigan will make an even bigger impact than Barnett in 2017, giving the unit a true interior presence who can take advantage of all the attention being paid to Fletcher Cox. The front four has been a lot to handle this summer.
 
7. I think Jordan Hicks' hand is just fine, and he could be headed for a Pro Bowl season. Last year, I thought Nigel Bradham overshadowed Hicks and actually played better. That's not meant to be an indictment of Hicks, but I'm not sure that will be the case again anyway. The third-year linebacker has been limited due to his injury, yet always seems to make a play when he's on the field and has shown no issues with tackling. This being his second season in the scheme is huge as well. Bradham looks good, too, and hopefully, the off-field distractions are behind him. Depth at linebacker remains a question mark, but the top two should be excellent.
 
8. I think Patrick Robinson's roster spot is in serious jeopardy if his camp doesn't turn around quickly. Robinson has rebounded somewhat after an especially disastrous practice last week, but his struggles have been well documented throughout. That could be problematic for the Eagles, who were clearly hoping he might be able to start this season. The one thing Robinson has going for him is nobody else has really stepped up and seized that role, so it's possible he could rebound and be on the field Week 1. With his 30th birthday approaching in September, I don't know that I would be counting on that to happen.
 
9. I think Eagles fans are going to love Terrence Brooks. This guy loves to hit and plays bigger than his listing at 5-11, 200 pounds. Brooks always seems to be around the ball, too, coming up with numerous interceptions throughout camp and going back to OTAs. There's even been a handful of occasions where it looked like he had to pull up to avoid causing a huge collision. Brooks will make his mark on special teams to begin with, but if he gets into a game on defense, he has the look of a legit playmaker.
 
10. I think for all the questions about the head coach, the players love Doug Pederson, they have bought in and they want to play for him. There aren't many ways to evaluate a coach in camp, but seeing how much fun players are having during a period of the NFL schedule that is typically associated with hard, monotonous work speaks volumes. Pederson needs to show improvement on game days, but the enthusiasm inside the Eagles' locker room bodes well for his future with the club.
 
11. I think Lane Johnson was right when he said this is most talented Eagles team he's seen. To be honest, this might be the deepest squad since the Donovan McNabb years. The only position that looks like a hole is cornerback. Most spots have solid, dependable backups or intriguing prospects in the pipeline. A few units have the potential to be among the best in the NFL, including the wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and safeties. And, of course, there's a franchise quarterback for the first time since McNabb in Wentz. The Eagles may be a year away from really being on the map, but they're on the right track, and this group should compete for a playoff spot at the very least.

Dodgers fan wearing Chase Utley jersey catches Justin Turner home run ball for 2nd year in a row

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MLB

Dodgers fan wearing Chase Utley jersey catches Justin Turner home run ball for 2nd year in a row

Dodgers fans had a reason to be ecstatic on Sunday night after Justin Turner hit a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Cubs, 4-1, and give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead in the NLCS.

But not as ecstatic as one fan in particular.

Keith Hupp, a retired police officer and lifelong Dodgers fan, was waiting under the home run ball in the center-field stands and snagged it with his son's glove. He was also wearing a Dodgers Chase Utley jersey.

He even made the catch with his non-preferred hand.

“I’m a lefty,” Hupp said to J.P. Hoornstra of the Orange County Register. “I’ve dislocated my right shoulder so many times, I had to resort to my son’s glove on my left hand. So the last five or six home run balls I’ve caught, I’ve caught with my left hand.”

And the craziest part about this story is that it wasn't the first time it had happened. Hupp caught Turner's sixth-inning solo homer in Game 3 of last year's NLCS against the Cubs in almost the same place, the center-field stands at Dodger Stadium.

Although he has 24 home run balls in his collection, Hupp won't be keeping last night's game-winner. After making the catch, he gave the ball to a security guard, and was escorted underneath the stadium to meet Turner and make a trade with him. 

In a postgame interview with MLB.com, Turner said Hupp couldn't decide what he wanted for the ball right away. They exchanged information and agreed that Hupp will get back to Turner in a few days when he decides what he wants.

Twitter had some good responses to Hupp's memorable home run catch:

Hassan Whiteside responds, doesn't back down from Joel Embiid rivalry

Hassan Whiteside responds, doesn't back down from Joel Embiid rivalry

Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside battled on the court on Friday night and then on social media following the Sixers' victory over the Miami Heat to finish off the preseason.

Embiid seemingly got the better of Whiteside, sending Philadelphia fans into a frenzy when he told Whiteside his "+/- was ass."

It appears as if Whiteside is taking it all in stride and actually has a pretty good level of respect for Embiid. The Miami big man was asked about the trash talk after practice over the weekend.

"It's funny to me," Whiteside said according to the Sun Sentinel. "I'm going to talk trash back if somebody talks trash to me. Maybe when I was younger, I would have been a little more angrier, I would have been a little madder.

"But, you know, that's the kind of guy he is. He makes jokes. He's a good player, so it's all fun to me. I can go all day with it."

Embiid has shown glimpses that he has the potential to be one of the greats of the NBA game on the court, while he's already one of the best at entertaining off of it. Whiteside will clearly have his hands full but he knows a little trash talk on social gets fans excited.

"Yeah, man, you know fans love it, man. Fans get into it. I love it, too," he said. "Because I know the next time we play him, he's going to give it his all, he's going to go as hard as he can. And as a competitor, that's what you want. You want your opponent to play at his maximum speed."

Playing at maximum speed is something Sixers fans hope and pray they get to see out of Embiid this season on a more regular basis. The trash talking is bonus fun.

"It's not him talking about somebody's family," Whiteside said. "It's not nothing crazy. It's just basketball. He called me softee. Come on, man. He knows that's not true. I'll be on his team's scouting report."

The Heat and the Sixers meet again on Feb. 2. Let's just hope both Embiid and Whiteside are out on the court to go another few rounds off of it afterward.