Eagles have their Ducks in a row

Posted: August 22, 2014

CHIP KELLY now has nine of his former Oregon Ducks on the Eagles' 90-man roster, with Tuesday's trade for running back/returner Kenjon Barner, and Kelly's fondness for familiarity is attracting notice. I found myself talking about it yesterday on a Portland, Ore., radio station.

"Duckgate" brought to mind something I learned a long time ago, growing up in Charlotte, N.C. Back then, Charlotte had no pro teams of its own. It shared an American Basketball Association team, the Carolina Cougars, with Raleigh, Greensboro (where the team practiced) and Winston-Salem.

I was a fervent fan of the Cougars, but their first few years, the Cougars were mediocre to lousy. A big part of the reason was their business model. People in North Carolina loved ACC hoops. So originally, the Cougars tried to make sure they had plenty of familiar names who had starred within driving distance, preferably at North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson or South Carolina. (Those schools' teams were virtually all-white at the time, which in retrospect might have been bit of a red flag.)

Turned out, Carolina's Larry Miller, State's Vann Williford, Clemson's Randy Mahaffey and Duke's Bob Verga, scintillating as they had been on the courts of their alma maters, were not the nucleus of a championship professional team. (Though Verga, my favorite, could bang home that flat-arc jumper in any league.)

In the 1970-71 season, 17 players took the court for the Cougars. Eight of them had attended college in North or South Carolina, though not all at ACC schools. The Cougars finished 34-50.

So, moving on to Chip and his nest of Ducks. The good side: Chip and some of his assistants, such as defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro, know these guys really, really well, and presumably have a very clear idea of how they fit into what the Eagles do.

The not-so-good side: Many, many good football players did not attend the University of Oregon, and yet still might be worthy of consideration by the Chipper. I remember watching my precious Cougars get clobbered by the Virginia Squires, who employed this bushy-haired, gravity-averse forward named Erving. If I understood the PA announcer correctly, this fellow had acquired a Ph.D. Somewhere along the line, though, sadly, not from a school in North or South Carolina. So he was not on the Cougars' radar.

Several members from Chip's flock of Eagle-Ducks will fly home when rosters go from 90 to 75 next Tuesday. The list of Oregon alums will be whittled again in the trim to 53 by Aug. 30 - assuming there aren't any more Kenjon Barners out there to replenish the ranks.

All coaches do what Chip is doing, to some extent. Andy Reid, in his early Eagles years, loved ex-Packers, though I'm pretty sure he never had nine of them hanging around. But even in Andy's fourth season, 2002, he was plugging emergency holes with Dorsey Levens and Antonio Freeman.

If Chip wants to throw a Brandon Bair into the competitive mix at defensive end, or thinks a Jeff Maehl might be as good as any other sixth receiver he can find, this is not a travesty. The problem would be if he keeps them over players who are superior performers. I haven't seen much evidence of that yet.

For me, third-round rookie wideout Josh Huff is a bit of a litmus test. It's one thing for Chip to pick up Barner, who was one of his most productive Ducks, for a conditional seventh-round pick. The stakes are higher when you draft a guy 86th overall, bypassing a couple hundred players at various positions you could have taken. Huff ran back a kickoff for a touchdown in the preseason opener, but otherwise he has had a quiet summer. Now a sprained AC joint probably will make him an unlikely contributor for the early part of the season.

Three years from now, if Huff hasn't proved to be more than a bottom-of-the-roster sub, we might look back at the 2014 draft and see players taken after the 86th pick who would have helped a lot more at a spot where the Eagles were thin. But 3 years from now, it's unlikely Chip still will be stockpiling Ducks. They'll mostly be players he had no hand in recruiting or coaching.

Just for kicks

Much to no one's surprise, the Eagles aren't letting the fact that Carey Spear can't beat out Alex Henery keep them from trying to upgrade. Special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp said as much when Eagles assistants met with reporters Tuesday, and yesterday, the Birds acquired undrafted rookie kicker Cody Parkey from the Colts for undrafted rookie running back David Fluellen, whom the Eagles earlier in the day announced they intended to release. The Colts also had announced their intention to release Parkey. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman and former Eagles personnel director Ryan Grigson, now the Colts' GM, obviously got together and decided the swap would be quicker and easier than trying to claim the other guy's player.

Parkey, signed by the Colts in May, was competing against Adam Vinatieri, who is 41 but is still Adam Vinatieri. Parkey made both the preseason field goals he tried for Indianapolis. The thing Eagles fans noticed right away was that he led the NCAA in touchbacks last year, with 69. Henery ranked 20th in the NFL in that category last season.

In the BCS title game loss to Florida State, Parkey hit from 22 yards and missed from 33.

Why wasn't Spear released yesterday? Well, Parkey has to get here, take a physical, etc., and the Eagles have a game tonight. It's likely to happen today or tomorrow.

Fluellen, meanwhile, came to camp well-regarded, capable of providing some inside pop at 5-11, 224. He gained 25 yards on six carries in the Chicago game. A calf injury didn't do him any favors with the Eagles, especially when he sat out the New England game and fellow undrafted rookie running back Henry Josey scored a nifty touchdown on a 27-yard pass-and-run.

When the Eagles traded a conditional seventh-round pick for runner/returner Kenjon Barner, it was apparent they were pretty heavy at running back, even considering that Chris Polk hasn't taken the field since suffering a hamstring injury the second day of camp.

Agenda

Who: Eagles (0-2) vs. Steelers (1-1)

What: Third exhibition game

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lincoln Financial Field

TV: 6ABC

Radio: WIP (94.1-FM)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:

Flagging interest: Can the Eagles’ defensive backs stop getting whistled for holding every other snap and give us a chance to evaluate them in coverage? Yes, the rules crackdown is something none of us asked for and the game didn’t need, but it’s time to adjust.

Chip Kelly football, anyone? The Eagles’ first-team offense has not really shown us much to get excited about through two games. In Chicago, Nick Foles turned it over twice in three possessions. In New England, the Birds barely had the ball. Foles was much better, Jordan Matthews turned it around, but you’d have to say Tom Brady and the Pats offense outshone Kelly’s guys. Right tackle Allen Barbre wasn’t as good as he’s going to need to be as Lane Johnson’s replacement during the four-game suspension. It would be comforting to see the offense rip off a few long, precise drives tonight.

Toeing the line: LeSean McCoy’s celebrated left big toe injury is supposed to be very minor, but McCoy wants to really get some work in tonight, in what presumably will be his last action before the Sept. 7 season opener. Keep an eye on whether that happens, and we’ll all also be watching to see how Shady comes out of this, if he makes the injury worse or if it’s forgotten. Speaking of the NFL’s leading rusher last season, he will be part of the “Sunday Night Football” opening theme video, along with some other dudes and Carrie Underwood.

Other things to consider:

* Nolan Carroll is scheduled to play at least a little. Carroll was pushing for a starting corner job before he suffered a groin injury.

* Check out the Linc’s facelift, especially the new big boards in the end zone.

* Nothing against Vinny Curry, who really brings it every snap, but maybe somebody else could get near the quarterback every once in a while?

* I’m told there’s a decent chance Kenjon Barner will be in uniform. This is not the Oregon offense that Chip is running, so I have to think if that happens, it’s to see how Barner looks as a kick returner, with Josh Huff injured and just-healed Nolan Carroll looking at limited duty.

* It says here the Birds’ top two reserve linemen are center (and emergency guard) David Molk and guard-tackle Matt Tobin. Watch ’em tonight and discuss among yourselves. This WILL be on the final exam.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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