Opening Day means baseball in Philly, and it's a glorious and mild day for it this year. This time of year always inspires a feeling of criminality in me, as old desires to play hooky from school and escape to the ball park assert their ancient hold on me.
I've always known that major league baseball dated back to sometime around 1880, but I never bothered to research the exact origin of the Philadelphia Phillies. So today in lieu of going to the game, I went to MLB.com and sure enough there's a mini-history of the franchise.
To sum up: the Phillies are the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports. I did not know that…
The original Phillies began when the Worcester Ruby Legs were disbanded in 1882 and the franchise was moved by the National League to Philadelphia. Al Reach, who in 1866 had become the first professional baseball player and was later a successful sporting goods dealer, became the Phillies first owner along with attorney John Rogers. Reach named the team the Phillies.
The first Phillies game was played May 1, 1883 at Recreation Park on the corner of 24th Street and Ridge Avenue with the club losing 4-3 to the Providence Grays. The club would go on to win just 17 of 98 games that season, pitcher John Coleman losing 48 of them.
The Time Line continues from there and makes fascinating reading if you're into such things… http://philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com/phi/history/timeline.jsp
Meanwhile over at the Eagles NovaCare Training Complex it's opening day for a lot of Eagles players, too, as they're discovering their new locker assignments and really getting into seasonal conditioning drills.
DeMeco Ryans, inside linebacker…
It's no secret that Chip Kelly has brought a new culture to the Eagles clubhouse, as most players are finding out this week.
Players who reported for this week's voluntary workouts at the NovaCare Complex discovered that their lockers have been moved around, there is new cuisine in the dining room and even the pattern and pace of their workouts in the weight room have been revamped.
David Weinberg of the Atlantic City Press got some nice sound bytes from several players who were willing to talk about their own "opening day" experience with Chip Kelly's "new" Eagles…
Count linebacker DeMeco Ryans among the players who have embraced the culture shock.
"In my mind, it's good for us," Ryans said Thursday after a workout at the NovaCare Complex. "I think change is good. Change is here and we should accept it. I'm excited to have Chip as my coach and I'm really looking forward to seeing how we progress and what else he has in store for us."
The biggest shakeup has been in the locker room. Although it has been off limits to the media, Ryans and other players have mentioned that the dynamic is totally different.
For the first time in at least 30 years, players' stalls are not arranged according to position. Ryans is no longer stationed with Mychal Kendricks, newcomer Connor Barwin and the other linebackers.
Quarterbacks Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Dennis Dixon and others are not next to each other. Tackle Todd Herremans told the Delaware County Times last week that he is now neighbors with new linebacker Jason Phillips instead of center Jason Kelce.
"I moved over one locker to the end by all the outlets," Herremans said. "I think it's going to help us blend a little better as a team. You're with your positions so much in the meeting rooms and everything. This will help us hold each other a little more accountable."
The players also have to get to know the coaching staff.
Running backs coach Duce Staley and tight ends coach Ted Williams are the only holdovers from last season. Kelly hired 20 new assistant coaches, strength coordinators and athletic trainers.
His most interesting addition is new sports science coordinator Shaun Huls. Huls, who has not yet been made available for comment, most recently served as the head strength and conditioning coach and combatives coordinator for Navy Special Warfare.
"The game of football has evolved," Kelly said. "There are a lot of other sports that have evolved faster than football from a science standpoint and we want to be on the cutting edge of that. I just think it's a different experience that (Huls) brings to the table. But are we planning to attack a foreign country? No. We've got enough trouble with the 31 teams we've got in this league."
DeMeco Ryans is also excited about the changes coming to the defense and his position. Ryans will be playing inside linebacker after enjoying a solid season as the Eagles' middle linebacker in 2012.
"I don't care if it's a 4-3, 3-4, hybrid or whatever," Ryans said. "As a linebacker, it's all about having the right mindset to do get the job done with whatever is asked of you."
The Eagles have a new coaching staff and a new hybrid scheme that is expected to feature four linebackers. And with the new defense comes some old questions for Ryans.
"It was a big perception that DeMeco doesn’t ft the 3-4, 4-3, whatever," he said. "I played in that defense, in the Texans' 3-4 defense when we were the No. 1, No. 2 defense in the league. So if I didn't fit in there then we wouldn’t have been that highly ranked.”
I love it when guys talk about themselves in the third person… I don't know why.
The season Ryans was referring to was 2011. It was their first with Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator and in a 3-4 scheme. Houston finished second in the league to the Pittsburgh Steelers in total defense. Ryans was returning from a torn Achilles the previous year and Houston also had Brian Cushing in the middle of its defense. Cushing is one of the league's best linebackers, earning second-team All-Pro honors last year. He finished the 2011 season ranked behind only San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. Ryans ranked a respectable 22nd with average numbers against the pass, but rarely played on pass-rushing downs.
"That was because of the scheme they run in Houston," Ryans said in defense of himself and skills. "As you watch them now, they only play one linebacker on third down. That was Cushing. Cushing played on third downs."
It's possible Ryans will be in a similar situation this season. While Mychal Kendricks isn't anywhere near as accomplished as Cushing, he did run the fastest 40-yard dash time among all linebackers at last year's NFL Scouting Combine. His versatility is why the Eagles selected him in the second round. It wouldn't be surprising to see Kendricks as the only linebacker on the field on passing downs.
The Eagles don't mind. They kept Ryans and his $6.6 million price tag while cleaning house this offseason for a reason. They wanted his physicality on the field and leadership in the huddle and locker room on their roster, especially in the midst of a complete defensive turnover.
In reality, Ryans doesn't see much difference between the 3-4 or 4-3 scheme for the inside linebacker. His primary responsibility either way is to find the ball carrier, plug the holes and cover the middle of the field.
“It wasn’t much difference," he said. "I think a lot of people try to make it as different, but it’s not as big of a difference as people make it seem. You still have your particular run fits, you still have certain coverages. You can only run so many coverages as a defense so those coverages don’t change, whether you’re in a 4-3 or 3-4.”
"I'm excited about all this. I know Chip is going to put us in the best position to win and whatever my position is, I'll do my best. To me, Chip is a very high-energy guy and that's something we definitely need here."