Eagles

Randall Cunningham mentors his daughter and son to help them reach the Rio Olympics

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Randall Cunningham mentors his daughter and son to help them reach the Rio Olympics

The teenage high jump phenom lives at home and carpools to practice. Same with the 30-year-old American record-holder in the shot put.

These two medal hopefuls at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics also have this in common: A father for a coach whose last name is certainly recognizable to most football fans.

Vashti Cunningham's dad is longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, who built a track club in Las Vegas to help his daughter -- and son -- soar to new heights in the high jump. Michelle Carter's father is Michael Carter, a stalwart defensive lineman who used to routinely drive 340 miles roundtrip to offer her shot put tips.

Anything for their kids.

Being down a touchdown on the football field isn't nearly as pressure-packed as watching their children from the stands.

"The heart is invested," said Cunningham, a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1985 who played 16 seasons for four teams. "Whenever your heart is invested, you're going through all the emotions."

Randall began coaching his daughter and his son, Randall II -- now at Southern California -- when they were just kids. A standout in the high jump in high school, he turned his focus to football at UNLV because the school didn't have men's track and field.

He's part mentor, part instructor but most of all, dad.

And dad certainly knows his stuff. Three months ago, 18-year-old Vashti became the youngest woman to win the event at world indoor championships in Portland, Oregon. Soon after, she signed a deal with Nike. Her brother recently won an NCAA high jump title.

"Good genetics," said Randall, who coaches a track team in Las Vegas called the Nevada Gazelles. "I put confidence in her to jump (high). She trusts her dad. A lot of people who don't know the sport and try to coach their kid fail because their kid doesn't trust them."

She diligently listens, too.

"We have a good relationship, because he knows my limits, as far as my father and my coach," Vashti said. "I can't go in there and mess up with the knowledge he's transferred to me."

Growing up, Michelle never really knew her father as Michael Carter the shot putter, only Michael Carter the San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman.

It's not like the silver medal he captured at the 1984 Summer Olympics was hanging around the house or anything.

In seventh grade, Michelle expressed a desire to try the shot put. At first, dad was a little hesitant, thinking maybe she was enticed by someone who informed her that he was once a thrower.

Not the case, she insisted.

"He just wanted us to pick it for ourselves," Michelle explained. "When I picked it up, he said, 'Well, if you're going to do this, I'm going to teach you how to do this and you're going to do it right.'"

Michael worked with her through a record-breaking high school career, and thought his coaching days were done once she went to the University of Texas. But he was asked to help out and so he drove from Dallas to Austin every two weeks to offer some guidance.

Dad certainly knew his shot put, too. Michelle has blossomed into one of the world's top throwers, winning six U.S. outdoor titles. She also set the American outdoor record of 66 feet, 5 inches (20.24 meters) in 2013 and broke the nation's indoor mark with a throw of 66-3 3/4 (20.21) to capture a world title in March.

Usually not one to show much emotion, Michael bubbled over when he hugged her back stage after her record-setting win.

"My daddy is a big, old teddy bear," Michelle said. "I'm glad we're able to share those moments together."

These days, he's dad, coach and roommate.

Not too long ago, Michelle tried to buy a house. When it fell through, she moved in with her parents until after the Olympics.

Michelle and her dad carpool to practice most days, along with their dog named Ryder. While Michelle throws the shot at practice, Michael tosses the ball to Ryder.

And when they get home, they talk shot. They're always talking about the shot put, even when they say they're not going to.

Occupational hazard.

"It's hard for my dad to leave it out of the conversation," Michelle said. "It consumes your whole life."

Just like football once did -- for Michael and Randall.

The two gridiron greats hadn't seen each other in decades before crossing paths last March at the world indoor. At first, Randall didn't recognize Micheal until he scrambled to put on his glasses and read the name on the credential of the big man standing in front of him.

Oh yeah, Michael Carter, the San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowler who used to chase Cunningham around the football field.

"I was like, 'I see now that you're old,'" Michael chucked.

Honest mistake, Cunningham asserted.

"Of course I remember him -- a great player," Randall said.

Now they're both coaching their daughters, who are both strong contenders for Olympic medals.

"No one can teach our child better than we can because of knowledge we had in the beginning," Michael explained. "If there was someone to come along and take it beyond where we can take it, that would be fine. So far, haven't found anybody."

Why this year's Eagles longshots actually have a chance

Why this year's Eagles longshots actually have a chance

Conventional wisdom says you don’t want to be a late-round rookie this summer. Or worse, an undrafted rookie.

How are you supposed to impress the coaches without preseason games? How are you supposed to learn the offense or defense without spring practice? How are you supposed to prove you belong in what amounts to a few weeks of stripped-down training camp?

For the higher draft picks, the team is committed to you because of your signing bonus. 

The late-round picks and undrafted players have a tough enough time during a normal summer making the team. This year? You would think it’s going to be virtually impossible. 

Not necessarily, Doug Pederson said.

On the contrary.

“When you have an opportunity like this … of coaching everybody up, it’s not just about the starters and getting them prepared, which we do every year, but now more importantly it's about getting these young guys [prepared],” Pederson said Monday. “Because we truly feel these young guys are going to be the ones who are going to have to help us throughout the entire season.”

Pederson seemed to be saying that because the team anticipates temporarily losing players to the COVID list — which is both for players who’ve tested positive and those who've had close contact with them — they’ll need a deeper bench.

Which means they’ll be relying on some of these camp long shots.

Maybe several of them.

Because of the risk to players, practice squads were increased for 2020 from 10 to 16, and six of those spots are available for players with any level of experience. So you could conceivably see someone like Jordan Matthews — a six-year veteran with close to 300 career catches — on the practice squad. 

Last year, the Eagles’ injuries were so extreme they wound with four practice squad wide receivers on their roster by the end of the season, and some 73 players got on the field at some point during the season.

Now add the COVID risk, which could strike any position group at any time, and you see why the Eagles want to get as many people as possible ready to play.

“We're going to get some really good opportunities here in these next coming weeks,” Pederson said. “They are going to learn a lot from the veterans. The way I have the schedule set up is for them to learn and to be successful. Then once we get into the padded portion of training camp is where we really get to see where these guys are. 

“I think that this is actually a good time to be a late-round pick and possibly a free agent.”

If the roster is at 80 and the regular-season roster is 53 plus 16 on the practice squad, you see why it’s important for the coaches to get everybody ready.

Because just about everybody is going to have a chance to be a part of the 2020 Eagles. 

If there is a 2020 Eagles.

For guys like undrafted running backs Michael Warren and Adrian Killins, 6th-round receiver Quez Watkins, undrafted defensive tackle Raequan Williams and undrafted safety Grayland Arnold, this is very good news.

They don’t have a lot of time. But they have a chance.

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Why Eagles should quarantine a quarterback for the 2020 season

Why Eagles should quarantine a quarterback for the 2020 season

As we prepare to enter an unprecedented 2020 NFL season in a little over a month, one thing is become clearer as training camp continues: 

The Eagles should quarantine a quarterback. 

The big news in Philadelphia as the weekend came to a close was that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson tested positive for COVID-19, but that wasn’t the only important NFL news over the weekend. Because two starting NFL quarterbacks — Matt Stafford in Detroit and Gardner Minshew in Jacksonville — were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and will have to clear protocols before returning. 

With that in mind, the Eagles can’t open themselves up to the possibility of not having a quarterback ready to play each Sunday during the season. What if Carson Wentz contracts the virus? Worse, what if the coronavirus spreads through the quarterback room? It’s one thing to lose a running back or an offensive lineman or even a head coach. But every team needs a quarterback to be competitive. 

Every team needs a plan. 

Earlier in the offseason, Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians was on Chris Long’s Green Light podcast and said he might quarantine a quarterback. Pederson in June said it’s something they would consider. 

On Monday, I asked Pederson if he had given any more thought to the possibility of doing that. 

It's unfortunate that that happens,” Pederson said on a Zoom call. “I think we know that these things are going to happen probably throughout the course of the season.

“If it happens, and you hope it happens early enough to where you don't get to the regular season, but conversations that are ongoing still with my staff and the offensive guys on staff, Press [Taylor] and Rich [Scangarello], Marty [Mornhinweg], those guys, and haven't decided anything yet on that, obviously, but it is something to consider as we move forward.

The Eagles should quarantine a quarterback as an insurance policy and the obvious choice is Nate Sudfeld. 

Wentz is the starter and needs practice time. Hopefully for the Eagles, Wentz stays healthy and is able to play an entire season. If that happens, he’ll need to be game planning each week for the upcoming opponent and getting in reps with the first-string offense. And third-string quarterback Jalen Hurts needs to be at practice and in the quarterback room too. As a rookie, the 2nd-round pick is playing catch-up after an unusual offseason. In-person practices and meeting time are both really important for him.  

They won’t be as important for Sudfeld, who is entering his fourth season with the Eagles and fourth season in Pederson’s offense. 

Sudfeld, 26, hasn’t played much in the NFL. He has attempted just 25 career passes. But he’s the Eagles’ backup quarterback for this upcoming season and there’s a good chance he’s going to have to play at some point. 

What I’m proposing is that the Eagles allow Sudfeld to practice and participate normally at training camp for now but remove him and begin quarantining him two weeks before the season. He would still be able to participate virtually in the meeting rooms and while he’d miss practice time, he’d still be able to work out and stay in shape on his own. 

The phrase “quarantine” might be a little too strong. Really, what I’m proposing here is that the Eagles take extra precautions with Sudfeld and don’t expose him any more than they have to. 

Will all that guarantee that he doesn’t contract the virus? No, it won’t. But it will minimize the chance and give the Eagles an insurance policy at the most important position in the sport. 

If this 2020 season happens, players are going to test positive. Coaches are going to test positive. Guys are going to miss games. 

What the Eagles absolutely can’t afford is to go into any Sunday without a legitimate quarterback and expect to have a chance to win. The best way to avoid that scenario is to exercise extreme caution with their backup and hope it was all for naught. 

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