Free agent receivers, the Flat-Earth Society, Zach Ertz, Mondo Cozmo, Mike Mamula, LeSean McCoy and Pro Football Focus, Johnny Brenda’s and bad pizza!
It can only be one thing!
The return of Roob’s 25 Random Points.
1. Am I the only one that doesn’t want to over-pay for some 30-year-old free agent wide receiver who is only going to be well beyond his prime by the time the Eagles are presumably ready to make a deep playoff run? I want young receivers. I want draft picks. I want young wideouts who can run. I want guys who can come in and grow with Carson Wentz and reach their prime as he’s reaching his. I don’t see the point in patching yet again with over-priced free agents whose best years are past and who are just looking for that one final pay day. Haven’t we seen time and time again that this approach just doesn’t work? At some point if the Eagles are going to once again be an elite football team, it’s going to have to be through the draft. If you have more faith in older wideouts than draft picks, then you have the wrong people in the draft room.
2. There are exceptions to every rule (and every random point), and that said, I wouldn’t mind adding a guy like Terrelle Pryor, if the price is right. Pryor is 27, but he’s still very young as a wide receiver. For him to put up the numbers he did with the Browns as a first-time wideout learning a new position — 77 catches, 1,007 yards with a rotating cast of ineffective quarterbacks, I feel like he could come right in and be very good playing with Wentz and still be in his prime in two or three years, when Wentz should be really hitting his stride as an elite QB. Don’t just sign a big name because he’s a big name. Sign a guy that makes sense.
3. It’s been fun watching the improvement Donte DiVincenzo has shown for Villanova this year. He’s gone from being just a bench guy to really a crucial piece of the puzzle for the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 2 a year after winning the national title. DiVincenzo, a red-shirt freshman, is Villanova’s third-leading scorer in five February games (going into Saturday’s Seton Hall game), averaging 11.8 points per game. He’s also fourth in rebounding (3.6), fourth in assists (2.0) and third in field goal percentage (53 percent) in February – all coming off the bench. But what’s really been encouraging has been DiVincenzo’s fearlessness. He senses when the Wildcats need him to be aggressive offensively, and he never hesitates to shoot, no matter how big the situation. On a team with a National Player of the Year candidate, a championship game hero and a brilliant sophomore point guard, that’s impressive. DiVincenzo’s versatility allows coach Jay Wright to use him in a number of different roles. He can play the 1 through the 4. He’s an athletic freak but also can handle and pass. And he’s only going to get better.
4. Listen to “She’s a Rainbow” by the Stones but just focus on the piano. It’s incredible. It was recorded by the late great British session man Nicky Hopkins, and what makes it so cool is how the piano figure changes each time it comes around between chorus and verse. Hopkins doesn’t play it the same way twice.
5. “She’s a Rainbow” is an unquestioned classic. Still … I’ll bet Mick and Keith would change that “She combs her hair” line if they could.
6. Best place to see a show in Philly: Johnny Brenda’s. Worst place to park in Philly: Johnny Brenda’s.
7. Getting back to free agent wide receivers … was just thinking who’s the best UFA wide receiver the Eagles have signed since Irving Fryar 20 years ago? Kevin Curtis? James Thrash? Consider this: Since 1973, Eagles wide receivers have had 36 seasons with 50 or more catches. Only six of those 36 have been courtesy of wideouts the Eagles signed as free agents (Charles Johnson (1), Curtis (1), Thrash (2), Fryar (2)). Safe to say Fryar is the only true impact wideout signing the Eagles have made since the inception of free agency in 1992. The Eagles have landed Mike Quick, Fred Barnett, Calvin Williams, Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in the draft and Miles Austin, Jeff Graham, Steve Smith, Michael Timpson, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens in free agency. See a pattern?
8. Am I the only one who thinks it’s ridiculous that during the I-95 construction there’s no open entrance ramp onto 95 North between Center City and, like, Maine?
9. Only two tight ends have had 75 or more catches and 800 or more yards in each of the last two seasons: Greg Olsen and Zach Ertz. If Ertz hits those milestones again next year, he’d become only the 10th tight end in NFL history with three such seasons and just the seventh to do it three straight years.
10. The biggest thing I’d like to see Wentz improve on next year is getting out to fast starts. Wentz really struggled early this year. In the first quarter, he had one TD pass and six interceptions and a 67.2 passer rating, which ranked 28th out of 32 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 passes in the first quarter (ahead of only Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles). From the second quarter on, Wentz had 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions and a much healthier 82.3 passer rating. The interceptions Wentz threw early sure seemed like simply the product of a guy who was too amped up, too excited. Several times, he fired balls right at opposing D-backs, something you rarely saw him do late in games.
Think about it — he threw an INT every 21 attempts in the first quarter and every 60 attempts in the second through fourth quarters. The Eagles were a terrible first-quarter team this year. They scored an NFL-worst four first-quarter offensive TDs all year, and Wentz’s only first-quarter touchdown pass was a 19-yarder to Jordan Matthews against the Browns — on the first series of the Eagles’ first game. Seems like Wentz calmed down after the first drive or two and really let the game come to him. If he can just take a yard off his fastball early in games and have the same calm demeanor he does when the game is on the line, that alone is going to make him a much more effective quarterback. Bottle Wentz’s last three quarters and you have a playoff-caliber quarterback.
11. Here’s the bet Gunner and I made on Quick Slants on Monday: Victor Cruz's 2017 receiving yards with whatever team he’s with vs. Nelson Agholor's 2017 receiving yards. Gunner has Cruz, I have Nelly. Who do you like?
12. OK, why do I still believe in Agholor? I think about this a lot. Here’s my thing. I don’t see any of the usual red flags with unsuccessful draft picks. He works hard. He cares. He’s healthy. He wants to succeed. He isn’t too slow, too small or too short. No, the issues Agholor has had are mental more than physical. He has the tools. You see him run good routes, separate from corners, get open. He just doesn’t catch the ball. That tells me that buried somewhere under there lies a decent NFL wide receiver. No amount of coaching can make a slow guy fast or a small guy big. But I do think it’s possible to take a kid who has all the physical tools and help him find his confidence. A new position coach should help. Another year with Wentz should help. A year of maturity should help. I don’t think it’s a slam dunk that Agholor will perform at a decent level in 2017, but I sure think it’s possible.
13. OK, I think it’s time for my top 10 Classic Rock keyboard players: 1. Rick Wakeman (Yes), 2. Keith Emerson (ELP), 3. Tony Banks (Genesis), 4. John Lord (Deep Purple), 5. Pat Moraz (Yes, Refugee), 6. Herb Schildt (Starcastle), 7. Kerry Minear (Gentle Giant), 8. Eddie Jobson (UK, Zappa), 9. John Tout (Renaissance), 10. Kit Watkins (Camel, Happy the Man).
14. It’s amazing to me that they actually built the Egyptian pyramids faster than they’re building the I-95 ramp to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And they did it without frontloaders.
15. I like Jim Schwartz and I think he has a chance to be a very good defensive coordinator for the Eagles. I don’t like — and never have liked — assistant coaches that try to be personnel experts. It was Schwartz that wanted the Eagles to sign cornerback Leodis McKelvin, who he coached in Buffalo, and it was Schwartz that didn’t want Eric Rowe, the 23-year-old second-round cornerback because — among other reasons — he would have been buried on the depth chart, behind – among others – McKelvin. So now McKelvin has been released, Rowe has a Super Bowl ring, the Eagles are in dire need of young, promising cornerbacks, and Rowe is just entering his prime as a Patriot, not an Eagle. Presumably, none of this happens if the Eagles leave the scouting to the scouts and the coaching to the coaches. Scouting and coaching are two completely different things, and it’s very possible to be really good at one and not so good at the other. And the Eagles’ trust in Schwartz as a scout may have cost them a promising young corner they could desperately use.
16. And the few remaining Eagles fans who deny that the Eagles could use Rowe because he’s not a “scheme fit” or some nonsense, remember that Bill Belichick finds talented players and then finds ways to use them. If you don’t think the Eagles could use a young, athletic cornerback who graded out well all year playing against some top wideouts, you’re kidding yourself. There’s a reason Belichick has won five Super Bowls and the Eagles haven’t won a playoff game in eight years.
17. Scat singing — a kind of vocal improvisation with nonsensical words that was made famous by Ella Fitzgerald — is the single most annoying form of music I’ve ever heard.
18. Except Billy Joel.
19. I don’t blame LeSean McCoy for lashing out at Pro Football Focus for leaving him off their list of the 101 best players in the NFL. I know it’s easy to lose track of him up in Buffalo, but have you looked at Shady’s stats this past year? He rushed for 1,267 yards with a 5.4 average, 13 touchdowns, 50 catches and 1,623 yards from scrimmage. Do you know how many players in NFL history have rushed for 1,200 yards, averaged 5.4 yards per carry, scored 10 or more TDs and caught 50 passes in a season? How about three? Marshall Faulk in 2000, Chris Johnson in 2009 and Shady this past year.
20. And this is from a guy in his eighth NFL season, when running backs are supposed to be fading from prominence. Shady’s 5.4 average this year is highest in NFL history by a running back in his eighth season. The previous record was 5.3 by Faulk in 2001. Shady’s as productive as ever. PFF’s explanation for omitting Shady — that he’s not a good blocker — is ridiculous. His virtually unprecedented production with the ball in his hands more than makes up for any deficiencies he has as a blocker.
21. One more on Shady. In his first eight seasons, he’s averaged 1,119 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. If he has three more seasons at those benchmarks, he’ll have 12,311 rushing yards to go with a 4.7 average. Do you know how many players in NFL history have done that? Two. Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. You can make a very good case that if Shady keeps up his career average level of play for three more seasons, he’s a Hall of Famer.
22. How do so many pizza joints stay in business selling terrible pizza?
23. It’s funny how our perception of different athletes changes depending on non-football circumstances. Mike Mamula is seen as a first-round bust and a horrible player, I believe to great extent because he rarely gave interviews during his playing days and was seen by fans as surly, difficult and uncooperative. Brandon Graham is beloved now, I think to a great extent because he’s such a great guy, always available for a sound bite, funny and insightful on TV.
So let’s look at the careers of the two first-round defensive ends, one who was taken instead of Warren Sapp, the other who was taken instead of Earl Thomas. Mamula had 31½ sacks in 77 games as an Eagle, and Graham has 29 sacks in 96 games as an Eagle. Mamula averaged 6.3 sacks per season and twice had 8.0 or more sacks. Graham has averaged 4.8 sacks per season (not counting 2011, when he barely played) with a career-high of 6½. Now, I’m not knocking Graham at all. He’s been playing at a high level and has proven himself worthy of being a No. 1 pick. But I will submit that Mamula has been unfairly maligned over the years and was far more productive than people realize.
24. I was going to make a joke about Kyrie Irving believing the Earth is flat. But the more I thought about it, the more it struck me that it’s more sad and scary and disturbing than funny that in this day and age a someone can actually believe something so absurd. I mean, freaking Galileo first realized the planets are round 500 years ago. What the heck were they teaching at Duke?
25. OK, I gotta tell you about Mondo Cozmo. It’s kind of a long story, so settle in. There’s a Bucks County band called Illinois that is still kicking around but had a pretty good run a decade ago playing to huge college and festival crowds across the U.S. and Europe. Illinois was formed by Chris Archibald, who had played with a Bucks County band called Ty Cobb, and Martin Hoeger, who had played in a Bucks County band called Trip 66. When they were in their late teens, a neighborhood kid named Josh would watch their rehearsals through their basement window. Josh was learning to play the guitar but was just 13 or 14. Too young to hang out. But he kept playing guitar and started writing songs and when he was old enough, the Illinois guys kind of took him under their wing and they all became pals.
Josh – Josh Ostrander – went on to form a band called La Guardia with Greg Lyons, who had played in Trip 66 with Hoeger. Ostrander and Lyons then moved to L.A. and formed a band called Eastern Conference Champions, which had a pretty good following on the pop-punk scene and recorded three records. But when they couldn’t find anybody to release their third record, they split up. Ostrander stayed in L.A., writing songs and working two jobs as a landscaper. Illinois meanwhile stayed somewhat active in Bucks County, although the members all have kids and other jobs now and lead singer Archibald is heavily involved with his brilliant new project, "Archawah" (catch them at the Boot and Saddle Thursday!). So that’s the background. And it takes us up to present day. One of Ostrander’s new songs is called "Shine," a moving, inspirational, almost-gospel track that he recorded mostly by himself, with just his girlfriend adding some backing vocals. Radio stations picked up on the song and began playing it. It caught fire.
“I was visiting my mom in Iowa and we were driving, and Shine came on the radio,” Josh told me the other day. “I just started crying. I had worked so long and so hard for something like this. I had to pull over. I couldn’t drive.”
About a month ago a crazy thing happened. On Jan. 20, Shine hit No. 1 on the Billboard’s Adult Alternative singles chart, knocking off Kings of Leon’s “Waste a Moment,” which had spent 14 weeks at No. 1. Ostrander, after decades of disappointment in the music industry, after working tirelessly for years as a landscaper, had a No. 1 hit. Suddenly, he began receiving invitations to play all the major summer festivals — Shaky Knees, Hangout, Sasquatch, Governor’s Ball, Boston Calling, Coachella, Firefly, Bonnaroo.
Before that, there were industry showcases and some East Coast gigs to play. But he didn’t have a band. There are some guys he plays with in L.A., but for the East Coast shows he needed musicians. So he called his old friends from Bucks County, and Archibald, Hoeger and original Ilinois drummer Craig Labor became his East Coast band. After being close friends for 20 years, they were sharing a stage for the first time ever — at some really important shows. They played a series of sold-out gigs, including the Boot and Saddle in Philly and the Mercury in New York, along with a bunch of industry insider gigs, TV auditions and radio station promotional shows. But before Ostrander returned to L.A. he wanted to do something special for his friends and family in Bucks County, the people who had stuck with him, supporting him, throughout all his ups and downs. And that’s how the secret show at a tiny bar in Bucks County came about.
Earlier this month, Mondo Cozmo played a show at an old-fashioned bar in Hatboro called Connolly’s that Archibald happens to manage. With the Illinois guys backing him and maybe 100 adoring friends and family jammed into this little bar, Ostrander and the guys he used to watch through a basement window tore through about an hour of songs from the forthcoming Mondo Cozmo record along with a Radiohead cover. "Shine" (now No. 2 on the Billboard AAA chart) turned into a powerful 100-person singalong and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Ostrander said, “This is a song that means the world to me. I hope it means a lot to all of you, too.”
After a quick change of drummers – from Labor to his pal and current Illinois drummer John Paul Kuyper – Archibald and Ostrander switched spots and ripped through a short set of Illinois songs as the crowd jammed into a random suburban bar went bonkers. It was an absurd scene — the guy with the No. 1 song in the country playing his heart out with his boyhood friends in a tiny bar off Old York Road between Produce Junction and a 7-11. But it didn’t feel absurd. It felt incredible and deeply moving. In a world of manufactured pop and lifeless autotuned hits, this was as pure and powerful as live music can be. You wonder what keeps a guy like Ostrander going as a struggling musician after literally decades of disappointments. Those couple hours at Connolly’s made it all clear.