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If Merrill Reese believes in 2017 Eagles, I’m in too…

The veteran radio broadcaster for the Birds likes what he sees so far…

I love Merrill, as so many of you do too. He may have never played the game but he can call the game. I especially like his fearless approach to criticizing plays when they go wrong. You are not going to get a “homer” announcer when you tune into Reese. He tells it like it is and while it’s happening.

My cutesy take on Reese is his unabashed refusal to change his native Delaware Valley speech dialect toward a more homogenized national network pronunciation pattern.  He still and will always say “Mary” when he means “Murray”… and “Cary” when he means “Curry”… I just get a kick out of that Philly dialect.

David George of PE.com and Dave Spadaro got some  nice quotes from Reese this week:

“What I like about this team is they took a weakness and turned it seemingly into a strength and I’m talking about the wide receiver position,” Reese told Dave Spadaro on the Eagles Live podcast. “Last year, I think that most people would agree if you were evaluating talent you’d say they were a marginal group. This year they got the number one free agent available wide receiver in Alshon Jeffery who can be a force. They got a great speed receiver in Torrey Smith and then you add a Jordan Mathews into that slot and I think you have something very special.”

“The number one area of concern that I think all of us would believe based on what we saw last year was the play of the cornerbacks. I think that is going to be helped with increased pressure from the defensive line,” Reese explained. “That’s where they went in the draft with Derek Barnett. He was a terrific college pass rusher and everybody in this organization believes they can translate that into success in the NFL. I think that Vinny Curry is going to have a much better season. I think he’s fully healthy now. I think he can put pressure on whatever side they decide to use him at. They’ve beefed up the defensive line.”

“You have Rasul Douglas. I’m anxious to see how he does. I think that Jalen Mills is a guy who has the right mindset to be a corner. He has a short memory,” said Reese, who complimented Mills for having a “gunfighter’s mentality” that will only translate into future success at the position.

In the backfield, Eagles welcomed running back LeGarrette Blount who finished one rush shy of eclipsing the 300-mark last season. In Reese’s eyes, Blount can be relied upon to handle a heavy workload after coming off a career season when he led the league in rushing touchdowns (18) and bulldozed his way to 1,161 rushing yards, good for eighth best in the league.

“Well, what he can do is make sure short yardage is almost automatic,” Reese said of the 250-pound back. “I think it’s a good offensive line, this offensive line will be a plus for this team. I think when you have a back like LeGarrette Blount, he will provide that tremendous power. I think (Eagles running backs coach) Duce Staley was a back who had some power too and bulk, but LeGarrette Blount is the definition of a power running back. He will mow people over and I think that you can make your team’s third-and-one almost automatic. You don’t have to resort to trickery or play-action where you can just say, ‘Hey, it’s third-and-short go get us the yard,’ and that conversion rate is way up there better than 40 percent, I think you’ll be a good team.”

Above all, Reese believes the Eagles will have a much more experienced leader at the helm in quarterbackCarson Wentz. He raved that the second-year signal-caller who had a standout rookie season.

“Then you have the second year of the very talented and exciting quarterback Carson Wentz, who did amazing things I think for a rookie last year, never lost his poise, and grew as the season went on. He had his obstacles that he had to fight his way through, but he did battle and he came out on an up note and came out healthy,” Reese remarked. “He’s going into his second year and he doesn’t look like a second-year quarterback. He looks like a veteran.”

Reese expects the Eagles to compete neck and neck with the other teams in the division. In the end, Reese is foreshadowing a playoff spot for the Eagles, which would be their first postseason appearance since 2013. “Everyone will be tough, there are no givens in the NFC East. I think the Eagles can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other three and maybe in the end emerge as the best team in the NFC East,” Reese said. “I believe this team is going to be playing beyond December 31.”

From Merrill’s lips to God’s Ears…

Here are some generic practice notes by Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson from the most recent TC session:

1. On the first play of full-team action, Zach Ertz made a slick grab on a pass thrown behind him as he crossed the middle of the field. It was a quick throw from Wentz slightly off the mark, but Ertz adjusted and secured a tough catch. Joe Walker, working with the second-team defense at linebacker, was in tight coverage on the play. – Fran Duffy

2. Soon afterward, the team came out in a three-tight end set, something we saw plenty of in 2016 in the first year under head coach Doug Pederson. With Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton all lined up to the left, Wentz handed the ball off to running back LeGarrette Blount … who took off the OPPOSITE direction down the right sideline for a long gain on the ground. – FD

3. One quick depth chart note that I picked up early in practice when the first-team defense took the field – cornerback Ron Brooks worked with the first-team nickel package in the slot, with Jalen Mills (left corner) and Patrick Robinson (right) on the outside. In the spring, with Brooks on the sideline, we saw Mills slide into the slot with rookie Rasul Douglas stepping in outside in those looks. We’re all excited to see how the rotation evolves as camp progresses. – FD

4. Mills made a nice pass breakup early on in the session, knocking a pass down on an intended slant route. It was a nice anticipation play by the second-year corner. – FD

5. A few plays later, the backups on offense wanted to go vertical, with wide receiver Mack Hollins running deep against Mills and safety Malcolm Jenkins. The snap was dropped, killing the play, but Hollins exploded downfield regardless, showing his speed in space and finishing the rep. Hollins shot his hands up as if the ball was coming his way, forcing Jenkins to react and try to “break up” the pass. On the surface, it comes off as a “nothing to see here” kind of moment, but it gave me a glimpse into the kind of worker Hollins is on the practice field, providing the defense with the best rep possible. – FD

6. When the first-team offense went back on the field, I focused in on a rep between first-round pickDerek Barnett and left tackle Jason Peters. Barnett beat Peters outside on the first rep I watched, but that was the only time I saw J.P. lose a snap after that. Peters pushed Barnett to the ground on one play soon after, and it was more of the same for a lot of the reps that I watched live. Matching up against Peters on a daily basis is one of the best things for a young pass rusher like Barnett to go through at this stage of his career. – FD

7. Soon afterward, Nick Foles hit Jordan Matthews on a deep pass downfield for a touchdown. J-Matt leaped over rookie defensive back Randall Goforth on the play, coming down with what would’ve been a score. It was good to see Matthews back on the field after missing most of the spring with a knee injury. – FD

8. With the first-team defense back on the field, I enjoyed watching reps between Mychal Kendricks andDonnel Pumphrey in the slot. On one play, the veteran linebacker broke up a throw at the catch point, coming away with a clean PBU in coverage. The running backs out in space were once again a theme on Thursday, as second-year running back Wendell Smallwood made one of the plays of the day with a slick catch away from his body out in the flat, jumping up with a defender in his face to bring in the throw. – FD

9. Going back to the first play that Duffy referenced, how many times will we see Ertz and Celek on the field together at the same time in 2017? The Eagles ran 163 plays with two tight ends last season, which was only 22nd in the league. – Chris McPherson

10. Linebacker Jordan Hicks was a limited participant due to the finger injury he suffered while on his honeymoon. He wore a soft cast on his hand. Najee Goode was the first-team middle linebacker in Hicks’ absence. Hicks wants fans to know that he’ll be fine. – CM

11. Our Alex Smith recorded some of the hangtimes of the punters. After rookie Cameron Johnston put up a strong 4.72 seconds, Donnie Jones answered with one at 4.82 seconds followed by a boomer that hung in the air for 5.11 seconds. Jones showed why he’s one of the greatest punters in NFL history. – CM

12. Dillon Gordon will be an X-factor for the Eagles’ offense. He lined up as a third tight end. He was a fullback. On short-yardage situations, how will teams handle seeing the Eagles line up in the I-formation with the 322-pound Gordon leading the way for Blount, who is 250 pounds. – CM

13. A player who stood out to me in the spring was safety Terrence Brooks. He had a nice pass breakup on a throw intended for tight end Anthony Denham on Thursday. Brooks was claimed off waivers at the end of the preseason in 2016 and spent the early part of the season learning the playbook. If you recall, he made the game-sealing interception of an Eli Manning offering against the Giants in Week 16. – CM

Merrill Reese is now 75 years old. He is a graduate of Temple University earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications and Broadcasting. While in college, he learned his craft by doing play-by-play over the college’s radio station, WRTI FM. At WRTI, Reese also had a music show every Wednesday afternoon where he spun 45-rpm records from his own personal collection.

After college and a stint in the United States Navy, Reese set out to obtain his first paid broadcasting gig auditioning at WCOJ in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and WPAZ in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

Reese eventually landed a job in Philadelphia as a newscaster and sportscaster at WHAT and its FM companion WWDB. After a few years he moved on to WIP as a backup for that station’s Sports Director, Charlie Swift, who did drive-time sportscasts and Philadelphia Eagles play-by-play. While Swift was vacationing, Reese began doing the pre-game and post-game shows for the Eagles on WIP and later was assigned to do color commentary during the games. He became the voice of the Eagles in the middle of the 1977 season after Swift committed suicide. Herb Adderly took over the color commentary for the remainder of the season. He is the longest-serving current play-by-play announcer in the NFL.

Reese’s current broadcast partner is former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, who joined Reese in the booth in 1998. Aside from Swift and Adderly, Reese has previously been joined in the booth by Jim Barniak (1978–82), Bill Bergey (1982–83, and who also filled in when Quick had knee surgery during the 2004 preseason), and Stan Walters (1984–97).

Reese is co-owner of 1490 WBCB (AM) in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a Bucks County suburb north of Philadelphia. Reese’s autobiography, It’s Gooooood!, was published in 1998. The title is a reference is to his distinctive and well recognized “field goal” call, which is usually delivered in a highly excited falsetto, in stark contrast to his baritone broadcasting voice.

His wife Cynthia was a former sixth grade science teacher at Keith Valley Middle School in Horsham, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb. His son Nolan has been an assistant editor of such films as Avatar, Iron Man 2 & The Muppets. His daughter Ida is a graphic designer.

 

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