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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 22

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When a season-ending injury to a seventh-round draft pick is a major issue, you know you have depth problems.

The Eagles responded to Joe Walker’s torn ACL by signing veteran Stephen Tulloch, who has played for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for six seasons, three while Schwartz was defensive coordinator with the Titans and three while he was the Lions’ head coach.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday that Tulloch, a 10-year veteran, will compete for the starting middle linebacker spot with Jordan Hicks. But let’s save the linebacker alignment discussion for another day. The point today is that the Eagles have depth issues at many positions.

Almost every team will experience a drop in quality when a starter is injured. But the Eagles are particularly vulnerable in several areas.

The Eagles are thin at linebacker. They are thin at running back. They are thin at receiver – in terms of quality, not quantity.

Before Tulloch was signed, the only backup linebacker with experience was Najee Goode, and he was pressed into starting duty for the first two preseason games because of an injury to the often-injured Mychal Kendricks. Hicks, entering his second season, has a significant injury history, including the pectoral injury that caused him to miss the second half of his rookie season. When Walker tore his ACL, Don Cherry, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent from Villanova, became the primary backup to Hicks at middle linebacker.

Linebackers often play on special teams. Are the Eagles going to risk having Tulloch or any of their starters suffering an injury while playing on special teams? Goode is terrific on special teams, but he’s probably the only one that will see special teams duty. Even with Tulloch, the Eagles are one injury away from being awfully thin.

The Eagles also are thin at running back. An injury to often-injured running back Ryan Mathews, who was injured at the start of training camp, would force the Eagles to rely upon the relatively untested Kenjon Barner, veteran Darren Sproles and rookie Wendell Smallwood. The Eagles would be very reluctant to give Sproles too many additional carries. Smallwood, a fifth-round draft pick, has had injury problems of his own during training camp.

Jordan Matthews is far and away the Eagles’ best receiver. As we’ve seen during the first two preseason games, the quality is questionable beyond Matthews. Nelson Agholor, a second-round pick in 2015, hasn’t been productive. Josh Huff drops far too many passes. Veteran Chris Givens, signed in part because of his success with quarterback Sam Bradford with the Rams, has been invisible. Veteran Rueben Randle has been inconsistent. No wonder the Eagles took a flyer on talented but troubled Dorial Green-Beckham, a second-round pick the Titans were willing to give up on after just one season.

Matthews, sidelined by a knee injury, says he will be ready at the start of the season. If he’s not ready, the Eagles could have one of the worst receiving corps in the league.

The looming 10-game suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy also leaves the Eagles thin at offensive tackle. An injury to the often-injured Jason Peters would leave the Eagles with backups at both tackle positions. This situation is exacerbated by the Eagles’ failure to draft an offensive lineman during 2014 and 2015. With Johnson likely to be suspended and Peters a good bet to miss at least a game or two, the Eagles would be putting Bradford’s health in jeopardy – and he has his own lengthy injury history – by using two backup tackles. Even if you count Allen Barbre, who is shifting from left guard to right tackle, as a starter, that means there is a backup at left guard.

Not only are the Eagles thin, but they seem to be particularly thin at positions in which the starter has an extensive injury history. Considering the likelihood of injuries during an NFL season, that’s a troublesome situation.

*****

FIRST IMPRESSION: I’d feel more comfortable with the Eagles’ first-team offense if it was able to drive downfield for a touchdown Saturday against the Colts. After scoring on a three-play drive following a fumble recovery on the opening kickoff, the first-team offense left the preseason opener against the Bucs. The first team played the entire first half against the Steelers last Thursday, but only produced three points, which came after the defense made its fourth interception of the first half.

The first team rarely plays in the final preseason game, so Saturday’s game against the Colts is the finally opportunity to get into a rhythm and produce before the season opener on Sept. 11.

*****

SOUL TRY TO UPSET RATTLERS: The Soul take aim at the franchise’s second Arena Football League championship Friday (7 p.m.) when they face the Arizona Rattlers. With five ArenaBowl appearances in the past six seasons, the Rattlers present a formidable challenge.

The Rattlers reached ArenaBowl XXIX with a dominant 82-41 victory over Cleveland in the National Conference championship game. The Soul, who squeaked out a 55-50 victory over Jacksonville in the American Conference title game, will need to slow down the Rattlers’ offense to have a chance to pull off the upset.

Quarterback Nick Davila and head coach Kevin Guy have been together during the Rattlers’ exceptional run. Rod Windsor and Maurice Purify provide Davila with outstanding targets. The Soul’s Tracy Belton, named the AFL defensive back of the year, will certainly have his work cut out for him on Friday.

*****

GOLD RUSH: The United States won 46 gold medals, more than any other country, at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Gymnast Simone Biles and swimmers Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky led the way with multiple gold medals. The U.S. basketball teams also struck gold. The women, in particular, deserve special recognition for winning their sixth straight gold medal while extending their Olympic winning streak to 49 games.

*****

LOCHTE CONTROVERSY: Yes, United States swimmer Ryan Lochte left out a few relevant details when he said he and three of his fellow U.S. swimmers were forced out of their taxi at gunpoint and forced to hand over money. He left out that the U.S. swimmers had been drinking and that they vandalized a gas station, which is why they were detained.

Lochte was wrong. His behavior is an embarrassment. Judging by the coverage of the incident, however, you might think that Lochte assassinated Brazilian government officials. Three hours of coverage, which is what at least one network provided on the day that Lochte’s story unraveled, is ludicrous.

*****

DOWN TO THE WIRE: With just three races remaining before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the opportunities for winless drivers to secure a berth in the Chase with a trip to Victory Lane are dwindling.

The top 10 drivers, all with at least one victory, are locked into the Chase. Tony Stewart, in 27th place with one victory, is almost assured of a Chase berth in his final season as a full-time driver. By finishing fifth at Bristol on Sunday, Chris Buescher remains in 30th place, the cutoff spot for making the Chase with a victory.

Buescher, the surprise winner of the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono, has a 13-point cushion over David Ragan. If Buescher remains in the top 30, only four winless drivers would qualify for the 16-driver Chase field. Barring a major shakeup in the standings, those four drivers would appear to be Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman.

If Buescher falls out of the top 30, however, there is an interesting battle for what would be the final Chase berth. Trevor Bayne is in 15th place, just four points ahead of Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne. If a winless driver not mentioned thus far wins during the next three weeks, though, Dillon, Elliott, McMurray or Newman would be denied a spot the Chase.

*****

BIG WEEK FOR UNION: The Union missed an opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference when they dropped a 3-1 decision to second-place Toronto FC on Saturday. The fourth-place Union (9-9-7) lead Montreal by one point, but the Impact have played one less game. The more important task is to maintain a cushion over D.C. United and Orlando City SC, the two teams tied for the sixth and final playoff spot. Those teams are six points behind the Union. Like Montreal, they have a game in hand.

The Union can add to their cushion this week with games Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) at Columbus and Saturday (7 p.m.) at home against Sporting Kansas City. A loss or two could put the Union in the danger zone with regard to making the playoffs.

*****

WALKING THE WALK: After talking the talk before his fight, give Conor McGregor credit for walking the walk against Nat Diaz, earning a hard-fought majority decision at UFC 202.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 28 years, reportedly has moved up to third string at linebacker on the Eagles’ depth chart.

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