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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All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

All signs point towards Boston Celtics being major players in NBA free agency, trade market

The Boston Celtics have what some might call an embarrassment of riches between a deep roster that made the Eastern Conference Finals, many draft picks - including this year's No. 1 - and money to spend in free agency. According to multiple reports, they plan to go big this offseason as they aim to reach the next level.

CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely reported on Friday that Boston wants to acquire another star in free agency or by trade. Here is what he wrote:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

That should add legs to the rumors they will pursue Gordon Hayward this summer. An All-Star small forward, Hayward will be one of the top free agents available and happened to play in college under Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

[RELATED: Lonzo Ball turned down Celtics, but will listen to... Sixers?]

Also set to hit the open market will be other frontcourt stars like Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. But they could acquire one via trade with guys like Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Carmelo Anthony already having been linked to them in rumors over the past few months.

All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, for one, seems to want his Celtics to go the free agency route and he is ready to make a recruiting pitch. This is what he told ESPN:

"We need the best possible player that's gonna help us win, and I'm with that," Thomas said. "Anything Danny [Ainge] and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I'm all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more."

The Celtics are in an enviable spot with many ways to get better this offseason. And running the show is one of the best GMs in the business in Ainge. 

Acquiring stars is easier said than done, but the Celtics look like the team to watch this summer as they appear ready to get very aggressive in trying to improve. The Wizards will certainly be paying attention as they do their own work to get better.

[RELATED: Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs]

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Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Scouting the Stanley Cup Finals: Possible Caps' free agent targets from the Pittsburgh Penguins

The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Monday. Instead of gearing up for Game 1, however, the Washington Capitals are gearing up for the offseason. While fans in Washington will be watching in the hopes of seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins lose, Cap scouts will be watching to see if there is anyone they can add to their ranks next season to bolster the roster.

The Penguins are a team loaded with talent as evidenced by the fact that they are playing in the finals for the second straight year looking to be the first team to repeat as Cup champions since 1997-98. Like the Caps, they also have a handful of expiring contracts.

Is there anyone wearing the black and gold who could help the Caps next season? Josh Archibald, Brian Dumoulin, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Oskar Sundqvist are all restricted free agents meaning most if not all will be off limits to Washington, but there are still plenty of unrestricted free agents they could perhaps target this summer.

Nick Bonino

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 29
Last contract: 3 years for $5.7 million, $1.9 million cap hit
Season stats: 18 goals, 19 assists in 80 games

It was Pittsburgh’s HBK line (Carl Hagelin, Bonino, Phil Kessel) that really exposed Washington’s lack of bottom-six scoring depth. As Bonino was the guy centering that line and given the fact that scoring depth is still an issue for the Caps, you would think he would be an enticing piece for Washington to potentially add. If there is one position in which Washington appears set, however, it is center. Unless something unexpected happens with Evgeny Kuznetsov’s restricted free agency or someone is plucked in the expansion draft, the Caps will return Nicklas Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle next season, all four of their centers from 2016-17. If they lose one, Bonino could be a potential target for a depth center, but otherwise he is not a great fit.

RELATED: Orlov in talks with KHL team, but it probably doesn't mean much

Matt Cullen

Position: C
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 40
Last contract: 1 year for $1 million, $1 million cap hit
Season stats: 13 goals, 18 assists in 72 games

Cullen has been an incredibly productive fourth line player for Pittsburgh given his age, but the Caps need to get younger and faster. I have a hard time believing Cullen will not hang up the skates after this season, but even if he doesn’t he is not someone Washington should pursue.

Trevor Daley

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 33
Last contract: 6 years for $19.8 million, $3.3 million cap hit
Season stats: 5 goals, 14 assists in 56 games

The Capitals have four defensemen they will need to protect in the expansion draft in John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt, but if they take the option to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie – which they are expected to do given their offensive depth – they risk losing a significant blue liner and someone the team had penciled in for a top-four role next season. Bringing in a player like Daley in free agency could soften the blow. Daley has proven to be a key piece of the championship puzzle for the Penguins, but let’s not forget how much he struggled in Chicago ultimately prompting the trade to Pittsburgh. He is someone who needs the right fit to be productive. Given the success he has had in Pittsburgh, I have to imagine he will try to remain a Penguin. If he does become available, the question becomes how much will he cost? Washington may be in need of a top four defensemen, but they may not have much money to spend and, at 33 years old, it is fair to wonder just how long Daley can continue playing well enough to justify that big of a role. Age, price and fit are too many question marks for my taste.

Ron Hainsey

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 36
Last contract: 3 years for $8.5 million, $2.83 million cap hit
Season stats:4 goals, 13 assists in 72 games

In addition to Washington’s top two defensive pairs, the third pairing is also a question mark for next season. Are Madison Bowey or Christian Djoos ready to step into a full-time role? Will the Caps consider buying out the remainder of Brooks Orpik’s contract? Depending on the answers to these questions, Washington will need to find one, maybe two defensemen for their third pair. If the Caps want to plug a prospect onto the bottom pair, they would do well to pair him with a veteran presence to help show him the ropes and make up for inevitable rookie mistakes. Could Hainsey be that guy? The only way this move would make sense is if the team bought out Orpik and signed Hainsey as a cheaper alternative. The more likely scenario is that they keep Orpik and use him in that third-pair mentor role.

Chris Kunitz

Position: LW
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 38
Last contract: 3 years for $11.55 million, $3.85 million cap hit
Season stats: 9 goals, 20 assists in 71 games

Kunitz was the hero of the Eastern Conference Final as he scored twice in Game 7 including the overtime winner. Do you know the last time Kunitz scored before Thursday’s game? February. Sure, you could argue he has veteran leadership, but so does Justin Williams. Kunitz is older than Williams, far less productive and even had a bigger cap hit this season. If you like what Kunitz could potentially bring to Washington, then re-sign Williams.

Chad Ruhwedel

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 27
Last contract: 1 year for $575,000, $575,000 cap hit
Season stats: 2 goals, 8 assists in 34 games

With Taylor Chorney still under contract for next season, the Caps have no need for another No. 7.

Mark Streit

Position: D
Age at the start of the 2017-18 season: 39
Last contract: 4 years for $21 million, $5.25 million cap hit
Season stats: 6 goals, 21 assists in 68 games

If the Caps are in need of a veteran defenseman to anchor their third pairing, Hainsey would be the better option from Pittsburgh over the 39-year-old Streit.

MORE CAPITALS: 20 questions: Should the Caps re-sign Williams?