The700Level

Respected writer applauds Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol

Respected writer applauds Ron Hextall, Dave Hakstol

Remember those "Fire Hakstol" chants?

They were belted out by some fans at the Wells Fargo Center during the Flyers' ninth straight loss, a miserable 3-1 finish to the Sharks on Nov. 28.

What felt like the real low of this season so far forced general manager Ron Hextall to issue a state of the union address for his hockey club less than an hour after those chants were spouted into the air.

Including that moment, Hextall ever since has firmly defended and endorsed his head coach Dave Hakstol.

Hextall, a man of immense patience and a stay-the-course mentality, was not about to waver because of a group of disgruntled fans.

“If we were playing poorly, I’d be the first to say, ‘We’re playing poorly,’" Hextall said that night. "I would be. We are not playing poorly and to look objectively at our team right now and to say we’re playing poorly, no."

A day later, on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Philly Sports Talk, Hextall made himself especially clear regarding Hakstol's job security.

"He's the guy," Hextall said. "Dave Hakstol is our coach and he's going to remain our coach."

Maybe it wasn't what some fans wanted to hear, but Hextall didn't care.

And one well-respected writer, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, has been impressed with how both Hextall and Hakstol have responded. Here's what Friedman had to write Monday in his 31 Thoughts, a popular read among hockey people:

You’re always curious to learn how a new GM will react to a difficult situation, but I really liked the way both Ron Hextall (and Dave Hakstol) handled the “Fire Hakstol” chants and pressure in Philadelphia.

That organization has a historically short leash for coaches, but Hextall made it clear he wants to change that. He showed up in the dressing room to defend his coach, and, days later, passionately informed the media Hakstol wasn’t going anywhere. (The only thing missing from that burst was Hextall chopping down reporters with a goalie stick.)

Hakstol said he knows what he signed up for. The Flyers don’t admit it, but privately, word is they feel one year away from a true assessment of how good they are. Second, Hextall worked hard to convince Hakstol to leave North Dakota three summers ago, luring him to Pennsylvania with what is believed to be a six-year contract. He’s invested in his coach.

The Flyers fired Peter Laviolette three games into the 2013-14 season. They axed John Stevens 25 games into the 2009-10 campaign. And they got rid of Ken Hitchcock eight games into the 2006-07 slate.

There's definitely a history of short leashes, as Friedman mentioned.

But Hextall is not a guy that gets easily rattled by outside pressures. It probably makes him trust his evaluation and gut even more.

After the losing streak hit 10 games, the Flyers won three straight by sweeping their Western Canada road trip. Now they're back at the Wells Fargo Center for five games in a row, starting Tuesday.

A little more pressure at home sweet home.

h/t to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Tom Dougherty.

Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

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Our first glimpse of Brian Dawkins’ Hall of Fame bust

It won’t be long until Eagles fans turn Canton, Ohio, into a sea of green this summer. 

That’s when Eagles all-time great and fan favorite Brian Dawkins will be officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2018 also includes Terrell Owens, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss and Brian Urlacher. 

Here’s our first look at Dawkins’ bust, which will eventually find a permanent home in Canton. 

 

The 2018 class will be enshrined on Aug. 4 in Canton at 7 p.m. Dawkins previously announced that his teammate Troy Vincent will present him for the Hall of Fame. 

While players don’t go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of a specific team, Dawkins spent the majority of his career with the Eagles and is arguably the most popular Eagle of all time after making seven of his nine Pro Bowl appearances with the Birds. He now works in the Eagles’ scouting department. 

It won’t be long before the finished bust is presented to the football world. 

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

Before he ever suited up in an Eagles uniform, Donnel Pumphrey had his fair share of doubters. Measuring 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and able to perform just five reps in the bench press at last year’s scouting combine, many questioned whether a running back with such a slight build could survive in the NFL.

Preseason football certainly didn’t convince anybody otherwise. To the contrary, games raised even more concerns.

Despite becoming the all-time NCAA Division I FBS leader in rushing yards at San Diego State, Pumphrey appeared to lack any quickness or burst whatsoever. He was completely ineffective carrying the football for the Eagles, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt, and fared only marginally better as a receiver out of the backfield and return specialist.

The Eagles were undoubtedly tempted to cut their losses and release the fourth-round draft pick out of training camp. Instead, Pumphrey cracked the 53-man roster, then landed on injured reserve with a “torn hamstring” a short time later, resulting in a much-needed redshirt year.

It would be easy to write Pumphrey off after all of that, and many people have. Sure, he had an incredible college career, but the Mountain West Conference and the NFL are two different worlds.

Yet, there’s reason for the Eagles to hold out some hope for Pumphrey, whose redemption tour began Monday at OTAs.

This is the period of the offseason where Pumphrey can show coaches he’s bigger, stronger, faster than when he arrived. All the 23-year-old has been doing since September 2017, besides rehabbing from an injury, we’re told, is working out. Some improvement from a purely physical standpoint should be evident.

If Pumphrey has taken the necessary leaps, his rapid ascent up the Eagles’ depth chart is possible.

Only Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have their roster spots set in stone, and the former is on the final year of his contract. Wendell Smallwood spent the latter half of last season on the inactive list. Darren Sproles could be re-signed, but is currently a free agent. The Eagles will likely select another running back in the draft next week, but Pumphrey can still carve out a role in 2018 or beyond.

It’s not outrageous to envision Pumphrey filling a Sproles-like role – a running back/receiver hybrid who plays situationally.

Keep in mind, Pumphrey did have a legitimate hamstring injury last summer that caused him to miss time in training camp. Not a lot of work was lost, but it’s unclear how that impacted his preseason performance. It at least might explain the seeming lack of athleticism, and was perhaps related to his IR trip.

Pumphrey’s size is another story, and may always be an issue. Then again, he wouldn't be the first person of small stature to carve out a niche in the NFL, or the last.

That isn’t going away anytime soon. However, if Pumphrey arrived at OTAs with a little more meat on his bones and a little more bounce to his step, he has the potential to turn some heads over the next few weeks.

Then, who knows. Maybe he’ll be in a position to compete for a roster spot come camp.