Eagles' draft should mute the second-guessing snickers and loud hecklers

Man, the Eagles’ war room seems to be running a draft clinic this year.Granted, one never truly can assess a draft for several years. But what the hell. Instant analysis is not only more immediate, it’s the God-given right of all bloggers.Well, let me just say that the Birds are revving us up into a zooming state of anticipation. Their draft so far has been one heavy with possibilities, literally and figuratively.Some folks examine drafts picks like some souls inspect iridescent flora. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.And although this draft still is in the fifth round as I write this, I’m seeing an Eagles draft as good looking as Jessica Simpson. OK, perhaps that’s a stretch, but you get the point. The Eagles made a trade to move up to the No. 99 overall pick in the fourth round today and grabbed yet another big-bodied lineman in offensive guard Max Jean-Gilles from Georgia. This dude is 6-4 and 355 pounds and actually can play football as well as block out the sun.The Birds swapped disgruntled defensive tackle Hollis Thomas and the 108th pick to New Orleans for the chance to pluck Jean-Gilles with the second pick of the fourth round. Also in the fourth round, Philadelphia picked Michigan wideout Jason Avant, who caught passes from Wilson grad Chad Henne. Avant has size and is a playmaker, but won’t give you a vertical dimension, courtesy of a turtle-like 4.7 in the 40. Pencil him in as a proverbial possession receiver. The Birds picked Avant with the 109th choice after a three-way exchange with Minnesota and Green Bay that also sent reserve offensive lineman Artis Hicks to the Vikings.Then the Birds drafted return specialist Jeremy Bloom of Colorado with the 147th overall pick in the fifth round.Bloom, you may recall, is a two-time Olympic skier who lost his final two seasons of college football eligibility because of skiing endorsement deals. Bloom obviously has a lot of fast-twitch muscles and should be hell on wheels whenever snow blankets the field.You can scroll down a tad to catch my pithy observations on the Eagles’ first day of the draft yesterday.But in case you’re either too lazy or have to rush outside to cut the grass, I’ll quickly recap that the Birds done good. Real good.Defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley in the first round and offensive tackle Winston Justice in the second round have the potential to accrue considerable frequent-flier miles to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. In the third round, Philadelphia picked Chris Gocong, a defensive end from Cal Poly who rushes the passer quite well.Naturally, the Birds are going to move him to strongside linebacker, a spot where they traditionally don’t send the backer after the quarterback. I suspect they may be flexible if the guy proves to be the real deal. They’re also hopeful he can acquire the pass-coverage skills to shadow tight ends. Then again, all NFL teams are hopeful in April. We shall see what the cold winds of December bring to the equation. But for now, let us all bask in that delicious April sunshine.P.S. An update:The Eagles completed their picking by taking another outside linebacker in Tennessee’s Omar Gaither with the 168th selection in the fifth round and another defensive tackle in USC’s LaJuan Ramsey with the 204th overall pick in the sixth round. Reid selected more linemen than even Met-Ed has. A MIA in the Birds’ stockpile of fresh bodies was a running back. Hopefully Brian Westbrook stays in one piece.Again the operative word is hope.

Eagles gamble with second pick that Justice is served

The Philadelphia Eagles, who are thin at offensive tackle with Father Time tugging on Jon Runyan and the orthopedists tugging on Tra Thomas’ creaky back, stocked up at that crucial spot in the second round of today’s NFL Draft.From a football perspective, it was an outstanding pick.When they took USC’s Winston Justice, they got a first-round pick in the second round. The 6-foot-6, 319-pound tackle tackle, who adroitly protected Matt Leinart’s blindside in college, boasts astounding athleticism. The dude moves as explosively as a large predatory cat.But there was a reason that Justice plummeted out of the first round, his stock dropping so quickly that one wondered if someone had tied an anchor to his ankles.Someone had. Winston Justice himself.NFL history is dense with bad boys. Some repented and played well. Others were train wrecks that derailed their careers.Justice has been a bad boy. His days at USC had a squalid element off the field. He pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges for waving a replica gun at another student in 2004, and the school suspended him for that season. In 2003 he was sentenced to probation after being arrested for soliciting a prostitute.An altar boy he ain’t.In light of the T.O. fiasco, you wonder why the straight-laced Andy Reid and Company overlooked Justice’s mottled character. Perhaps Justice convinced them he has atoned for his sins. Still, the redemption business does have significant risk.They apparently really coveted the guy, warts and all, because he can be an awesome on-field force field. To grab him at the 39th pick, they traded their second-round choice, the 45th, and their fourth-rounder this year to the Titans.Hopefully Justice doesn’t have to face the scales of justice while he’s an Eagle.

Reid gets his big Bird in Brodrick Bunkley

Although Andy Reid loves to throw the football a zillion times a game, the former BYU lineman has a fixation on the trenches.The explosion at the line of scrimmage makes Reid’s eyeballs go TILT. Linemen are the epicenter of his draft selections. He loves to pluck monsters who can pound the pudding out of folks.It happened again this afternoon. The Philadelphia Eagles got the man they wanted and they didn’t even have to trade up in the draft.Yep, sitting there at the 14th pick was Florida State’s Brodrick Bunkley, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound defensive tackle who can bench press 225 pounds 44 times. This dude has pecs bigger than mountains. And Reid hopes the guy helps give the Birds a shortcut back to the mountaintop. Jeez, even the guy’s name has a percussive ring to it. This was the fourth consecutive year the Eagles have drafted an offensive or defensive lineman with their first draft pick.Last year they chose defensive tackle Mike Patterson. Bunkley is a powerful inside stud. Rushing in tandem, Bunkley and Patterson should be a bloodthirsty, fiercely attacking duo.The Birds generated precious little pass pressure last season, which caused their secondary to be shredded to ribbons at times.Bunkley had a butt-kicking senior season at Florida State. He had 66 tackles, nine sacks and 25 tackles for loss last year.Various scouting reports say Bunkley is a penetrating one-gap lineman who’s versatile enough to be used in different schemes. Besides his exceptional explosion, he has hiccup-quick first-step explosion. He also plays with leverage and is fluid enough to stunt effectively.Plus, he’s hungry enough to eat up folks in one ruthless bite. When it comes to a D-lineman, you want a guy with a bigger motor than a 747.Granted, nobody’s perfect. Some scouts say Bunkley must learn to use his hands more effectively and develop more moves. He also has had some knee injuries. The Eagles won’t twitch back to life just because they landed Bunkley. But his selection should calm those Eagles fans who have been holding their breath.

No way to dodge this draft

The annual meat market that is the NFL Draft starts tomorrow.For draftniks, this is a holy day that should dawn with puffs of incense dotting the horizon. Not to mention a dollop or two of reverential silence. Draft gurus, who likely will have to be whisked away for convalescence after Sunday’s final selection is announced, will be transfixed by their TV and computer screens the entire weekend.Lawns will go unmowed, spouses and children will be neglected, and the real world will be disdained as totally irrelevant.Draft aficionados will perch in their cocoons of concentration as NFL teams, short on treasure, try to hit the jackpot in this human lottery.Thank God this is NFL Draft Eve because my eyeballs are about to burst from watching way too many snippets of videotape and reading oodles too many mock drafts. The draft has become an epic enterprise, a gargantuan circus of hype that dwarfs its true impact on the league’s landscape. And its sheer enormity spews streams of garrulous commentary that is the ultimate in sensory overload.

Self-proclaimed draft experts trumpet the wisdom of seers. But that’s the stuff of fantasia.

Nobody can accurately predict the first round in its entirety, let alone subsequent rounds. Too many variables come into play to muck up the algebra.

Assuming the Houston Texans don’t shock the world by selecting yours truly instead of USC running back Reggie Bush with the top pick, the real drama of Saturday’s first round is where the trinity of talented QBs falls.

There is enough intrigue about their destinations to make a CIA sleuth salivate.

Vince Young of Texas, Matt Leinart of USC and Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt are the QBs whose merits, or the lack thereof, have spawned even more molten debate than George W.’s Iraqi war.

For instance, will it be Young or Leinart who gets plucked by the Titans at No. 3 (assuming the Saints at No. 2 don’t go QB)?

The Jets at No. 4 need a quarterback even more desperately than Barry Bonds needs a miracle worker for a publicist. But conventional wisdom has them taking a pass on a passer.

So then what? Will the Raiders at No. 7 take Leinart or Young?

So does the survivor of that dynamic duo then go into freefall if Detroit at No. 9, Arizona at No. 10 and St. Louis at No. 11 also forget that quarterback is the most important swan in the ballet?

Next port of call could be Baltimore at No. 13 or Minnesota at No. 17.

And whither the strong-armed Cutler, whom some scouts feel has even more value than the freakish but flawed Young or the polished but perhaps peaked Leinart?

And I haven’t even factored in the distinct probability of teams trading up or down.

There is a good news-bad news element to a quarterback who drops like an anvil down the first-round draft board.

The good news: The further one falls, the softer the landing because theoretically one is going to a better team.

The bad news: Each lower rung on the board significantly deflates the size of one’s contract. Which is a matter of perspective. Nobody plucked in the first round plays for chump change.

Speaking of chumps, I will be one of those nut jobs glued to my TV and PC.

Truth be told, you will be able to cut the tension as well as the ring baloney with a knife in our household as each NFL teams takes its subsequent turn on the clock.

High drama indeed.

When outdoors in Berks, don't inhale

It’s a good thing that Berks County folks are a square-jawed brood. Because apparently our lungs are blacker than my old man’s mood when I was a rambunctious young punk.Yep, according to the American Lung Association of Pennsylvania, Reading’s air is among the dirtiest — insert wheeze here — of any metropolitan area in the country. Don’t inhale when you read this, but the association gave Reading “F” grades for fine particulate matter and ozone pollution. In fact, air pollution is worse in Reading than in many major cities, including Philadelphia, Boston, and almost every one in the southern U.S. — insert cough here — except Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala.Since many of us rank breathing right up there with eating, this is the sort of news to make us hack up a lung or two. It certainly doesn’t tickle our impish side.Like other areas, automobile emissions are choking us to death. Of course, if rocketing gasoline prices continue to escalate somewhere near Jupiter, we may all die a bit slower.Well, maybe not here in Berks County. Apparently our geographic location is smothering us in fine particulate matter that turns our lungs into dartboards.I wish we could move the pin on our map. Because our location, with major cities to the south and west, means a constant stream of pollution — insert gasp here — blowing across our borders.Since we Americans certainly haven’t treated pollution as if it were a ticking time bomb, taking a brisk stroll anywhere in Berks won’t be a bucolic journey for eons.So unless we somehow find the funding streams and the technology to wrap all of Berks in a gigantic plastic bubble, hold your breath when you step outdoors.

Car-apocalypse

Suffice it to say that my eyes turned glittery with primitive darkness when I read in my favorite morning newspaper today that traffic in Berks County by 2024 is going to be an absolute abomination.Our highways and byways are going to be clogged worse than my arteries likely will be at that point. And you can’t put stents into a highway system.Indeed, the puzzlements of modern times are a challenge.For those of us who will have hooked or sliced into the senior citizen category by then, at least we can cling fondly to the memory of the days when we could breeze along the West Shore Bypass. Then again, there could be less gaps between bumper-to-bumper traffic than there will be in my memory banks. With a projected 500,000 registered vehicles in the county by 2024, hopefully my commuting days by then will have been terminated by retirement or death.Of course, if my 401(k) stabs me in the wallet and I’m forced to work as a greeter at one of the two dozen Wal-Marts that likely will be here by 2024, hopefully all our cars will be able to take commuter flight just like they did in the “Jetsons” TV show of yesteryear.Jeez, then what would all those PennDOT crews do when there no longer is any need to install medial barriers?

A rambunctious chatterbox

OK, Tony Snow of Fox News is now President Bush’s press secretary.What’s the news in that? I thought all the Fox folks were Bush’s mouthpieces.Granted, Snow, in his weak moments, has been critical of Bush at times. Big deal.Bush has screwed up so many things, it’s not like you have to be an investigative nitpicker to find fault.Besides, Snow was a White House speechwriter for Bush’s old man. So the guy is well-versed in the party line. As Bush’s presidency is buffeted through tsunami-like rough waters, he needs a whipping boy to fend off the undesirables in the media.So Tony Snow will have a job more charged than a lightning rod.Bush would like Snow’s spin to float in the air like a sweet smog.If Snow can do that, his next circus feat might be to walk on the waters of the Potomac.

City employees commuting to work have more time to think about their jobs

City Council has been wrestling with the residency requirement for employees as if it were some sort of crab claw.It’s a messy subject, and to mix my metaphors, as gangly as a daddy longlegs. The whole issue seems to be leaving everyone with glazed eyes.The city charter requires all heads of departments, whatever their title, to live in the city. The charter can be changed only by referendum. The city administrative code requires all other city employees hired after 1996 to move into the city. That rule can be changed by ordinance, but the ordinance to do just that was rejected by Council Monday night.Council now will seek citizen input from a survey that will be sent out with the water bills. Hopefully many voters don’t toss away the survey like so much junk mail. Personally, I think the residency rule is antiquated. I understand its intent was to have city employees live where they work. But the rule obviously doesn’t work.Of the 548 city employees under the nonmanagement residency regulation, at least 250, or 45 percent, don’t live in Reading, according to city Managing Director R. Leon Churchill Jr. And police and firefighters are exempted by their union contracts.I realize it’s difficult at times to unbridle things from politics, but it’s time for the city to get rid of the residency requirement for practical reasons.While the residency rule is noble in concept, it does considerably narrow the scope of personnel available to take city positions. Why make your talent pool shallower? Especially when our city is treading some deep water. Also, the residency requirement does impinge on the freedom to live where you please. I believe that is one of the tenets inherent in the Bill of Rights.If Reading wants to truly become a candlelit oasis in the dark night, it’s time to unplug the residency requirement so there are even more bright bulbs in its personnel string.Conversely, I guess it’s fortunate that the residency regulation has essentially been ignored. Otherwise Reading would be a dimmer place.

Eagles brace for the winds of the draft

The faces of Eagles fans were not lit up like happy pumpkins last season when the Birds tumbled down a mineshaft into the NFC East basement.Likewise, disappointment welled up like a terrible virus in Iggles Faithful during free agency when the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys seemingly spent a gazillion dollars on all sorts of studs overlaid with ability and nastiness.Meanwhile, the Eagles were inking the pedestrian likes of defensive end Darren Howard, linebacker Shawn Barber, wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, backup quarterback Jeff Garcia, tight end Matt Schobel and defensive tackle Ed Jasper.Now there’s a murderers’ row for you. So now it’s down to the draft this weekend. It’s the Birds’ last shot at mounting some sort of resurrection this season.The draft, mind you, is a crapshoot. Despite all the scouting microscopes, combines, evaluations and measurables mumbo jumbo, it remains more art than science.The draft, free agency aside because often it’s fool’s gold, is essential to restocking a football refinery.But the draft doesn’t necessarily mark an NFL team for wealth. It’s hardly like watching sheets of cash roll off a mint.After all, projecting player personnel can be mystifying. It’s comparable to holding performance in one hand and potential in the other with both hands tied behind your back.All the Eagles need to do to improve upon last season’s 6-10 trip to hell is shore up their wideouts, offensive line, defensive line, running backs and linebackers. At least their ball boys seem deep and talented. Team president Joe Banner, however, doesn’t think the sky fell on the Eagles last season. I guess he was wearing rose-tinted glasses when all the rain clouds crashed onto his bean-counting forehead.

“We don’t feel we’re at the point where we have to fix our team,” he said.

When the hell do they need a fix, then? When they go winless and pointless?

So what will happen Saturday when the Birds select 14th overall, their highest pick since 2000?

Who knows? A lot of folks will tell you that they know. But in fact, nobody really knows. Even the Eagles’ brass doesn’t know.

The NFL draft is full of variables, with the domino theory even more active than when communism was threatening to swallow up the free word.

The Eagles could trade up or trade down. Or sit back and try to pluck some colossal freak with teeth-baring ferocity with the 14th pick.

Granted, a lot of the prime beef will be off the board by then, so the Birds will have to be prudent with their picking.

Eagles fans harbor fantasies about drafting a wideout in the first round to replace T.O., who now lines up for the dreaded Cowboys.

I could be wrong, but I doubt Andy Reid will go wide receiver with the first pick. Florida’s Chad Jackson and Ohio State’s Santonio Holmes are possibilities, but I suspect Reid will be haunted by the ghost of Freddie Mitchell and take a pass.

Reid reportedly covets a defensive tackle since they were foolish enough to let Corey Simon go last year. OK, I know they took DT Mike Patterson on the first round last year. But if either Oregon’s Haloti Ngata or Florida State’s Brodrick Bunkley still are available, the noticeably slimmer Reid will pounce on either DT quicker than he used to jump on a Philly cheesesteak.

Then again, if USC offensive tackle Winston Justice still is around at No. 14, he would be a serious candidate to don Eagles’ green. The OL is where Reid’s heart percolates.

The Eagles under Reid historically have undervalued linebackers, so it seems less likely that they will draft a LB even though they have a crying need there. For instance, strongside backer Dhani Jones ties a mean bow tie, but that’s as far as his meanness permeates. Still, Florida State’s Ernie Sims or Iowa’s Chad Greenway would be intriguing possibilities.

One thing you can be certain about Saturday’s first-round is that the Eagles, like all their NFL franchise brethren, will profess to absolutely delighted by their choice.

Of course, whether their pick of a doughnut from the draft pastry counter still seems tasty down the road is a whole different matter.

Hopefully the Eagles’ doughnut won’t have a hole in it.

A sumptuous Saturday for Greater Reading

Before Ed Rendell became governor, it didn’t seem the folks in Harrisburg even knew Reading was a pin on the map.In the B.E. (Before Ed) era, our city fathers stood there frozen like blind men, their tin cups emptier than our downtown used to be after dark.Not anymore. Not since Big Ed. Now our tin cups runneth over!Rendell believes that restored cities are the gateway to a revitalized Pennsylvania. And he has tag-teamed with such benevolent Berks businessmen as Albert Boscov to ensure that Reading gets a big piece of the pie.So Saturday was indeed Christmas in April for Greater Reading. Santa Ed came to town bearing nearly $15 million in new state money and promised $11.5 million more that that will get six major projects under way this year.Joining Rendell in the giveaway of state goodies were Reading Democrats state Sen. Mike O’Pake and Reps. Tom Caltagirone and Dante Santoni Jr.The projects include a convention-style hotel, a riverside amphitheater, a multi-screen movie theater and a previously unannounced 60-unit apartment building. The projects were on a wish list created by numerous local economic development groups that was whittled down by the Berks Economic Partnership. The business community and Democrats have created a dynamic, can-do partnership that is breathing new life into a town that once seemed on the brink of life support. Reading mayor Tom McMahon and County Commissioner chairperson Judy Schwank are Democrats who have been instrumental in fanning the flames of this alliance to heat. Jeez, and I thought it was supposed to be the Republicans who were all about big business.But forget the politics. The resurrection of Reading is much too important for petty politics. After all, no matter what our party ties may be, we’re all in this together. And we all should party right now and celebrate our good fortune.