Philly sports are clearly at a low point. And fans are hoping things aren’t going to get worse. But if the 76ers, Eagles, Phillies and Flyers are going to emerge from their current pits of despair, there are a handful of really important question marks regarding individual players.
If each of the following athletes can accomplish what is expected (or hoped for) of him, chances are there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Conversely, if these players remain injured, mired in slumps or fail to contribute, Philly will have another very long year.
Here’s a look at five guys in the pressure cooker:
1. Sam Bradford
He hasn’t played a full season since 2012, having missed time to ACL injuries. But he was a Heisman-winner in college and a No. 1 pick, so the talent is clearly there. The question is, can he succeed behind an aging offensive line, in an offense that demands mobility for a coach who traded a lot to get him?
He is still rehabbing, and there is still a decent chance Mark Sanchez opens the season for the Eagles. But Chip Kelly is optimistic.
“We wouldn’t have traded for him if we didn’t think he fit in terms of what our vision is for what we’re trying to do,” Kelly said, “but we still need to see him out on the field. We’ve got plenty of time. It’s the beginning of May here, so there’s a lot of time before we open up with Atlanta. I’m comfortable with that.”
The Eagles do have depth at quarterback with Sanchez, TimTebow and MattBarkley heading to camp, but if Bradford fails to make it to the field, you can bet there will be some heat on Kelly at season’s end.
2. Joel Embiid
The 76ers took a chance, stretching their rebuild out to accommodate drafting an injured star big man for the second year in a row. They drafted Joel Embiid third overall in 2014 and are hoping to have twin towers manning the inside for the future.
Things seemed to work well with Nerlens Noel, after sitting out for the entire 2013-14 season, the Kentucky product earned third place in Rookie of the Year voting, coming on strong defensively at the end of the year to lead all rookies in steals and blocked shots.
Embiid dealt with rumors that he was out of shape and overweight, but he was also seen dunking between his legs and draining three pointers pre game at the Wells Fargo Center. If Embiid can avoid becoming another Greg Oden, the Sixers will be in good shape.
3. Chase Utley
It’s sort of surprising that Utley is on this list. As recently as spring training, the hustling veteran was hitting bombs out of west Florida ballparks and looking poised to anchor the Phillies’ offense in 2015.
But his batting average through the first month-plus of the season is .116. That’s right–even if Utley went 10-for-10 in his next dozen at bats he would still be under .200.
Ryne Sandberg wisely sat Utley for the last two games in Atlanta leading into Thursday’s off-day, but what happens if the best second baseman in Phillies history can’t get back on track? Would he be sent to the minors? Will he retire? Demand a trade?
Phillies fans hope he can right the ship–but it’s an unprecedented slump for a No. 3 hitter with historical potency in the Phils lineup. His double against the Mets Sunday was a good sign, but he’ll need to string together some hits to unsound the alarm.
4. DeMarco Murray
He’s getting paid a lot, but he was the NFL’s leading rusher last year. DeMarco Murray has had a lot of reps at running back, but he will have some help from teammates Darren Sproles and another free agent pickup, Ryan Matthews.
He will have to replace, at least in large part, the production from the Eagles all-time leading rusher in the departed LeSean McCoy.
Murray also has a lot of mileage, having been run rampant in Dallas and it will be very interesting to see how much he has left in the tank — and whether it’s more or less than McCoy has left as he continues his career in Buffalo.
5. Steve Mason
The Flyers missed the playoffs last season but it wasn’t Steve Mason’s fault.
When in net, the 26-year-old goalie had the seventh best goals against average in the NHL at 2.25. He seemed to have success under the radar, due to Philly’s issues with defense and secondary scoring.
But under the radar, his .928 save percentage was third best in hockey. When he returns in 2015-16, the Flyers will once again rely on Mason, who played just 51 games due in part to injuries, to anchor their defense once again. Will he be able to replicate this season’s numbers?