RB Bryce Brown off to incredible start for Eagles

RB Bryce Brown off to incredible start for Eagles

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Bryce Brown watched 228 players get selected in the 2012 NFL draft before the Philadelphia Eagles took a chance on him in the seventh round.

There are 31 other teams wishing they chose Brown much earlier.

The rookie running back has been outstanding in his first two starts filling in for injured All-Pro LeSean McCoy. Brown has 347 yards rushing - the second-highest two-game total in team history - and four touchdowns.

``I was high on him when I first put the film on with the few plays that he had while in college,'' Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday. ``With natural ability, he's a big, strong man that has speed. You put that natural ability and natural feel and instincts to it, and you generally have a good player there.

``He has done well in the pass protection, and the pass protections are the most concerning thing with those young rookies playing. He has done a very good job playing that way as well.''

Brown had 178 yards and two scores in a loss to Carolina on Nov. 26 in his first start since his senior year in high school in 2008. He followed that up with 169 yards and two more TDs against Dallas. Both games were on national television, so Brown really showcased his skills to a wide audience.

To put those numbers in perspective, Brown already has more 160-yard rushing games than Bo Jackson had in his career. Former Eagles greats Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley had one. Wilbert Montgomery had two. McCoy also has one so far.

But Brown hasn't been flawless by any stretch. He's lost three fumbles in the two games, helping run the Eagles' losing streak to eight.

``We're doing a lot of stuff at practice, scout guys are going after it a lot more, trying to game-simulate it because we don't really do contact,'' Brown said. ``It's making me work a lot harder, too.''

McCoy, who has been sidelined by a concussion, wasn't a fumbler his first three seasons. He lost just two fumbles before losing one in each of the first two games this season. Brown received some advice from McCoy about ball-security this week.

``He told me, `Don't change a thing, keep playing with confidence and don't pay attention to what everybody else is saying. Play your game and keep doing what you're doing,''' Brown said. ``Protecting the ball and things like that, that'll come.''

When McCoy returns, the Eagles will have a welcome problem. Two high-quality running backs are no longer a luxury given injuries. It's uncertain whether McCoy will be back this season since the Eagles are playing out the string and he hasn't passed the required concussion tests yet.

``There is a lot of exciting things, and certainly for the future it's one of them,'' Mornhinweg said of two elite-level backs. ``Our focus right now is this next game. The past is important to learn from and the future is important for playing in, and that's an exciting thing no question about it. Our focus right here and right now is on Tampa and the players that we have on the field.''

The Eagles (3-9) visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) on Sunday, hoping to get their first win since Sept. 20. The Bucs present a challenge for Brown. They have the top rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 82.3 yards per game.

``I think it's a great challenge for us as a unit offensively and we're excited for it,'' Brown said.

Brown was the nation's highest-ranked running back coming out of Wichita East High School four years ago. He chose Tennessee and had an impressive freshman year backing up Montario Hardesty. Brown rushed for 104 yards in his first game with the Volunteers and finished with 460 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 101 carries.

When coach Lane Kiffin left for USC after that year, Brown transferred to Kansas State. He sat out 2010, and carried the ball only three more times in college. Brown suffered an ankle injury early in the season and played in just one game before leaving the program.

Scouts recognized Brown's potential, but had little film on him and perhaps questioned his desire to play. For the Eagles, Brown was worth the final pick. General manager Howie Roseman had scouted Brown and coach Andy Reid talked to his former coaches. Then running backs coach Ted Williams gave the green light after working him out.

``I had a chance to talk to Lane Kiffin who coached him and he was positive about him,'' Reid said. ``A coach at Kansas State that I knew (said that) before he was injured, he was positive. Howie had done a ton of work on him, just background work, and then worked him out and so on and felt very comfortable. Ted Williams felt very comfortable with him; a big kid who can run fast and had good feet. Once I had a chance to meet him and Howie and Ted had a chance to meet him, you understand that he was a smart kid. Those were the things.''

Eighteen other running backs were drafted ahead of Brown. Only three - Tampa Bay's Doug Martin (1,106), Washington's Alfred Morris (1,106) and Cleveland's Trent Richardson (827) have more yards rushing than Brown (488). Each has three times the number of carries that Brown has.

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NOTES: DT Mike Patterson (illness) joined S Kurt Coleman (chest) on the sideline for practice. DT Fletcher Cox (tailbone) returned to the field. ... McCoy and QB Michael Vick (concussion) are again expected to sit out the game.

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Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov leads team to the KHL playoffs

Prospect report: Ilya Samsonov leads team to the KHL playoffs

Hershey update: 26-16-8-3, 5th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-2-0-0

The Zach Sanford-Jakub Vrana competition for a spot on the Caps’ third line in place of the injured Andre Burakovsky was over before it even really began. Both Sanford and Vrana were recalled by the Caps after the bye week, but only Sanford got in the lineup and Vrana was sent back down to Hershey after Sunday's game against the New York Rangers.

Vrana seems to be struggling with staying mentally focused at times in Hershey which can happen when a player knows he is on the verge of making the NHL. Still, he needs to play well with the Bears for the Caps to have confidence in him for any future call-ups.

Tarik El-Bashir and I talk about the Sanford-Vrana competition and who we think has the higher ceiling in this week’s Capitals Faceoff Podcast. We also touch on Stanislav Galiev who had another impressive weekend with three goals. As well as he has played of late, I don’t foresee any recall upcoming for him. I believe the Caps are ready to move on after this season when Galiev’s contract expires.

Forward Travis Boyd was recalled by the Capitals on Tuesday, his first call-up to the NHL. Washington was in need of an extra forward for a road game in Philadelphia on Wednesday. The recall is a reward for his stellar work in Hershey this season. He did not play in Wednesday’s game and is not expected to crack the lineup while with the Caps.

After a rough stretch for Hershey in net, Vitek Vanecek appears to be settling in again. He came on in relief of Parker Milner on Friday and stopped all 18 shots he faced. He also earned a 33-save shutout in his start against Providence on Saturday, his fourth shutout of the season.

Unfortunately, Vanecek couldn’t finish the week on a high note as he gave up four goals on 28 shots on Saturday in a 5-1 loss to Bridgeport.

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps win heated affair in Philly

Other prospect notes:

Connor Hobbs found himself in a bit of hot water on Saturday for a dangerous hit he delivered to Moose Jaw forward Brett Howden. Howden was already tied up with another player along the boards when Hobbs laid into him.

The highlights of the game offer a view of the hit, though it is very brief. You can watch it here.

Hobbs was assessed a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct.

Not surprisingly, there was a difference of opinion over the hit after the game.

“I don’t think he got him in the head at all,” Regina head coach John Paddock said.

Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter, however, said “That’s a predatory hit. That’s a major penalty. When a guy is being checked with no route to avoid another check and he’s vulnerable and someone takes liberties to try and run him over when he can’t get out of the way, that’s a predatory hit and a major penalty and a suspendable offence.”

Hobbs received a one-game suspension for the hit and missed Regina’s game on Monday. In the three games he did play in this week, Hobbs tallied one goal and three assists.

Goalie Ilya Samsonov finished off a brilliant season in the KHL with a 1-0 shootout win on Friday. He had 31 saves for the game.

Russian Machine Never Breaks does a thorough breakdown of the regular season finale. Check it out here.

Samsonov finished the season with a 15-3-5 record, a .936 save percentage and a 2.13 GAA, helping lead Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the top record in the eastern conference. Now it’s on to the playoffs where Metallurg will look to defend its championship from last season.

Samsonov helped the team get off on the right foot with a 4-2 Game 1 win against Kunlun Red Star. The young netminder turned aside 26 of the 28 shots he faced for the win. Game 2 will be played on Friday.

It was another impressive week for defenseman Chase Priskie in Quinnipiac as he tallied two assists on Saturday. Despite being a defenseman, Priskie leads the team in points this season with 25 (7 goals, 18 assists) in 30 games. He has been red hot over the second half of the season with 19 points in his last 14 games.

Priskie’s 19 power play points leads all defensemen in the ECAC. His seven goals, 18 assists and 25 points also all rank in the top four among the league’s defensemen.

MORE CAPITALS:  The Caps are hopeful Niskanen avoided serious injury

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Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

Report: Ravens mulling cutting Dennis Pitta to create more cap space

A decision on whether to cut or keep Dennis Pitta is one of many issues facing the Ravens this offseason.

According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, the Ravens “may balk” at the $5.5 million salary Pitta is due next season. That makes sense, considering Pitta was just 28th in the NFL among tight ends in yards per catch (8.5) despite leading all tight ends with 86 catches. Pitta only had two touchdown catches, and there is concern he no longer has the speed to make explosive plays after two major hip surgeries.

Free agency begins March 9, but cutting Pitta with a June 1 designation would create the most cap space for the Ravens - $5.5 million.

However, if the Ravens release Pitta, they would turn the tight end position over to a question-filled group that includes:

Ben Watson – He is 36 years old, and missed all of the 2016 season with an Achilles injury. Cutting Watson and saving $3 million in cap space might make more sense than cutting Pitta. Especially if Pitta agrees to a pay reduction, as he did before last season.

Nick Boyle – He missed 10 games last season due to his second suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs. Another suspension could lead to the end of Boyle’s career.

Crockett Gillmore – He must prove he can still healthy after missing seven games in 2016, and 15 games over the past two seasons.

Darren Waller – He was suspended four games in 2016 for his first PED violation, and he has caught just 12 passes in his first two seasons.

Maxx Williams – He is coming off major knee surgery.

Pitta remains a favorite target of quarterback Joe Flacco, and even if Pitta struggles to make splash plays, he is still a chain-mover as a possession receiver. You can make a case for cutting or keeping Pitta. The Ravens will soon make their verdict.

MORE RAVENS: Stanley and his adopted dog from BARCS to be on Animal Planet