Andrew Kulp

In roller-coaster effort, Rasul Douglas shows uncanny short memory

In roller-coaster effort, Rasul Douglas shows uncanny short memory

Rasul Douglas’ performance Thursday night was a roller coaster. Fortunately, one of the second-year cornerback’s best traits might be his ability to forget.

“You have to,” Douglas said after the Eagles’ 31-14 preseason loss to the Steelers. “You can’t sit there and think about it because no matter how you planned out the rest of the game, you’ll never recover.”

Douglas was beaten for a touchdown in the first quarter, responded with an interception in the second, then surrendered another six before the half concluded.

It was a game of highs and lows, but nobody outside the Eagles’ building will remember the in-between. The 23-year-old battled the entire contest, bounced back from his early miscue and looked solid otherwise.

“[Eagles defensive backs coach Corey Undlin] and the guys are good at making you forget,” Douglas said. “It’s not even you don’t want to. They make you forget. Next play, you’re back out there and it’s like, ‘Let’s go, man.’

“They give you confidence because you feel like, ‘OK, that play is over, behind me, behind us as a team, and let’s go out there and still play.’”

One play, in particular, Douglas needed to wipe from his memory was the 71-yard touchdown to Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster in the first quarter.

Douglas was seemingly in perfect position to knock down an underthrown pass down the left sideline, eyes on the football, running in lockstep with his man. Except the corner appeared to mistime his jump, instead of falling to the ground awkwardly as Smith-Schuster went up for the ball.

The receiver may have got away with a slight push, but Douglas knows it wasn’t the type of contact that would draw a penalty flag.

“It wasn’t like a big push where the ref would call it,” he said. “It was kind of one of those, ‘Eh, we don’t see it.’

“That’s a good play by a receiver. That’s what receivers are taught. Get that little nub at the end and the ref won’t call it.”

Douglas was bested again for six points late in the second half, though on a spectacular catch by Steelers wideout Damoun Patterson. The pass sailed just over the defender’s outstretched fingertips and into Patterson’s hands as he completed a spinning grab in the back of the end zone.

Again, the coverage wasn’t poor in this case. Douglas was in decent position but was playing with outside leverage, expecting safety help in the middle of the field.

“When I come to the sideline, I looked at Corey,” Douglas said. “He told to me what he saw, I tell him what I thought I saw and we handle it right then and there.”

It wasn’t all bad for the Eagles’ third-round draft pick in 2017. Douglas even appeared to redeem himself earlier in the second quarter, intercepting Steelers quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Douglas was in zone coverage and read the quarterback perfectly, undercutting a corner route intended for Patterson down the left sideline. Still, Douglas was far from happy with the end result after the game.

“Unless I had three picks, I didn’t do anything,” Douglas. “That’s how I always roll. I always tell myself every game I’m going to try to get three interceptions. If I don’t get it, I didn’t play good enough. Especially because we lost, that definitely means I didn’t play good enough.”

One way of looking at Douglas’ performance is, he recorded an interception and surrendered two touchdowns. Another way of looking at it is he was only inches away from achieving his goal of three turnovers.

If he had, he probably would’ve forgotten anyway. After all, Douglas has a short memory.

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After early hiccup, Eagles' Jordan Mailata finds stride in NFL debut

After early hiccup, Eagles' Jordan Mailata finds stride in NFL debut

One would assume Jordan Mailata was beaten for a sack on the first play of his first NFL game because it was also the first time he was playing organized football at any level — but that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Judging from the way he played the rest of the night, nerves may have as much or more to do with Mailata getting beat than the fact he’s still totally new to the sport.

“Going into next week’s game against the Patriots, I’ll feel a bit more comfortable,” Mailata said after the Eagles’ 31-14 preseason loss to the Steelers (see breakdown). “I just had some jelly legs out there on my first snap.”

Mailata entered the game at left tackle in the third quarter and immediately received an education. Steelers linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi went right around the 6-foot-8, 346-pound Australia native and stripped the ball from Eagles backup quarterback Joe Callahan.

It felt like a harbinger of things to come for Mailata, a professional rugby player until the Eagles selected him with a seventh-round draft pick in April.

Instead, the 21-year-old elevated his performance.

“I tried to finish strong,” Mailata said. “I think I did reasonably — reasonably — well in the last quarter.”

Mailata was quiet the rest of the night, which is paying a compliment to an offensive lineman. He definitely wasn’t on the hook for any more sacks, didn’t make any glaring mistakes, wasn’t called for any penalties and didn’t really allow much more pressure on the quarterback.

At one point, Mailata even did something quantifiably good, jumping out of his stance while a Steelers defender was in the neutral zone before the snap to draw a five-yard penalty.

“[Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] usually at training says if a guy jumps, go ‘Oogaboogabooga,‘” Mailata said. “That’s what he calls it, oogaboogabooga.

“As soon as I saw him jump, I was like, ‘Oogaboogabooga.‘ In Stout we trust.”

Stoutland wasn’t the only person on the Eagles’ sideline lending a helping hand. Fellow left tackles Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai were in Mailata’s ear the entire time, as were many other others.

“Everyone,” Mailata said. “Coach Stout, vets, everyone was helping me out. It was really nice having that support, especially after that first play and I f----- it up. That’s pretty much what happened, but I own my mistake and I know I’ve learned from it.

“I felt there was a lot at stake. At the same time, the vets kept reminding me just keep focusing on the next play. They told me, ‘You’re going to make mistakes, and when you make it, focus on the next one and we’ll fix it the next day.’”

It didn’t look like Mailata made too many mistakes, though. To the contrary, while it was only his first NFL game — first football game of any kind — it looked like this experiment may very well pay off for the Eagles.

“I love [football] now,” Mailata said. “I just need to get more comfortable and more confident. That’s the only way to improve my game.”

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Why Phillies' bandwagon is lagging behind team's success

Why Phillies' bandwagon is lagging behind team's success

The Phillies have been in first place or tied for first place in the NL East for a full month now. So where are all the fans?

Why isn’t Citizens Bank Park a packed house for every homestand? Why aren’t the Phillies dominating the airwaves on sports talk radio, especially at a time of year when baseball is literally the only game in town?

I wouldn’t worry about that. If the Phillies keep winning, the fans will be back.

In fact, the evidence suggests they already are.

Attendance is climbing. Citizens Bank Park has averaged 27,790 per game this season, which represents only a slight increase over the past three seasons. Yet, that figure has been growing steadily since June 25. Over their first 37 games, the Phillies were averaging just 24,714. In the last 19, it’s jumped to 33,782 – a difference of over 9,000.

And if people are talking about the Phillies on the radio and social media, even if only to complain nobody is talking about the team, well, then people are still talking about the team, aren’t they?

It’s reasonable to project attendance will likely continue improving as long as the Phillies are in contention. This town loves a winner. The bandwagon is coming.

As for why it’s taken a little longer for some folks to get on board, that part is easy. The Phillies don’t have a problem with being likable or relatable, as some have said.

Quite simply, this team came from nowhere.

Some people have a short memory or never went away. Others tuned out while the Phillies were stumbling to 63, 71 and 66 wins over the past three seasons, with two last-place finishes and the worst record in baseball in 2015. While there was hope the organization was on the rise, expectations weren’t very high in April.

The Phillies hired a first-time manager. Much of their young core was still at Lehigh Valley a year ago. Even after some savvy free-agent additions and deadline dealings, there are few stars on the roster, particularly on offense.

This squad has drawn comparisons to the 2007 club, which saw the franchise return to the playoffs after a 13-year drought. There might be a similarly special feel surrounding this group, but the circumstances weren’t remotely the same.

When the Phillies were averaging 38,374 fans per game in ’07, they were coming off a competitive 85-win season and second-place finish in the NL East. They had stars like Ryan Howard, who hit 58 home runs and was named Most Valuable Player in 2006, along with Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. People love offense, and that team delivered.

In ’07, the Phillies were even still benefitting slightly from Citizens Bank Park being relatively new. The building opened four years earlier and was still by itself a draw.

Most of all, they were already established as a competitive team, with many picking the Phillies a trendy pick to make the playoffs, and a lineup that would mash dingers. So many dingers.

The 2018 Phillies were projected to be a .500 team, coming off years of losing, and competing with playoff-bound Sixers and Flyers squads the first month-and-a-half of the season. Even now, the Phils are still fielding a below-league average offense.

Which is not to say the ’18 Phillies haven’t been fun. It’s just that they were easier to dismiss in April and May, when people were being treated to low-scoring affairs, few star performances and a rookie manager’s unorthdox approach to the game – all while watching nervously to see if the wheels would come off.

But the wheels never did come off, and, finally, the fans are coming around. No matter how the Phillies wrap this season up, the red hats aren’t going back into hiding anytime soon, either.

The Phillies are winning again, which means they’re interesting again. With a host of developing young players and leadership getting a taste of success, and a front office that has money to spend in free agency, the fans are also beginning to understand this season is only the beginning.

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