Dan LaBert Interviews
DAN: Larry, welcome to Fantasy Tailgate. Tell us a little about yourself.
LARRY: I was lucky to have a junior high school basketball coach who was the assistant sports editor of The Pottsville Republican daily newspaper, and he got me a job answering the phone and taking results for the sports department, starting one day before my 16th birthday in April, 1981. With the exception of high school football season -- when I was a left tackle and nose guard -- I continued to do that until I went to the University of Dayton, and majored in communication (broadcasting and journalism). After internships at Dayton’s WKEF-TV 22’s news department and the Harrisburg Patriot-News sports department, I landed my first job at The Passaic (N.J.) Herald & News in April 1987, and covered home games of the Yankees, Nets, Knicks, Seton Hall (basketball), and nearly all Rutgers’ home and road football games, until December, 1991. Moved to The Trentonian daily newspaper in Trenton, N.J., and covered minor league baseball and college basketball from 1992-1999, before moving to The Allentown Morning Call in January, 2000. I took over the Eagles beat in the summer of 2001, and have covered every regular- and postseason game they have played since for a streak of 116 going into Sunday at Washington. I’ve also covered every Super Bowl since the Patriots upset the Rams following the ’01 season. But the most important thing I’ve done in terms of career-building was taking typing class instead of science as a senior in high school. Given how much all of us spend on computers these days, I’m going to venture a guess that even more kids – whether they’re going into journalism or not – ought to make sure they take a typing class.
DAN: Question #1 Let me get right to the point here Larry, what the heck is going on with the Philadelphia Eagles? Is it time for a major change? New Head Coach, new QB?
LARRY: The quarterback is coming back from a major injury, and he was not responsible for not having a competent punt returner on the roster for the season-opener – or for not at least turning to Brian Westbrook when it was obvious that was a problem area. And McNabb wasn’t on the field when the Chicago Bears drove 97 yards to a game-winning TD (though a TD right before that would have made that moot). So while he hasn’t played as well as in the past and appears to be learning to do deal with his new limitations, he is still the best QB on the roster. Throw him into a pool of available QBs, and watch how many other teams would want him. As for the coach? Maybe the situation has turned stale. He either needs to make changes of philosophy or go. The most notable changes would be to rely more on the running game, and bring in some players who have something other than even-keel personalities. The latter does not necessarily mean another T.O.-like signing, but it does mean there is a need for more players with fire. The even-keel approach –- which is reflective of Andy’s personality – served the Eagles well for a while, but something has shake things up.
DAN: Question #2 Rumors have swirled that DB Brian Dawkins is contemplating retirement? Can you offer any insight?
LARRY: It was a neck injury, and given Dawkins’ advancing age (he turned 34 in October) it’s easy to draw that conclusion. He says otherwise, but common sense says he had to think about it. And whether he wants to admit it or not, he is not the same player he was in previous seasons. My guess: This isn’t like Jeremiah Trotter’s situation, where it was apparent – and has been proven by his lack of playing time with Tampa Bay – where the skills have faded completely, so I do think he will be back next season.
DAN: Question #3 What are your thoughts on the Andy Reid family situation? Isn't this "old news" as far as the organization is concerned?
LARRY: I’m sure people inside the organization knew there were problems, though it seems neither the team nor even the Reids knew how bad those problems were. Andy does not really allow the media to get to know him, so its guesswork as to whether he is distracted. The guess here is that he has to be distracted. But I don’t think that had anything to do with the lack of a competent punt returner for Week 1. That was just a mistake, period.
DAN: Question #4 What current Eagles players do you NOT foresee returning to the 2008 team? For example, L.J. Smith?
LARRY: L.J. is the only starter not signed at least through the end of last season, so he is the most likely to exit. But his being sidelined and hampered by injury have not helped his bargaining power. I would also expect to see a change or two on the offensive line, likely involving one of the veteran offensive tackles and maybe the center. On defense, Darren Howard and Jevon Kearse appear to be candidates for a purge, though Kearse may catch a break because he is coming off a 2006 season in which he suffered a major knee injury.
DAN: Question #5 Fantasy players had huge hope for WR Hank Basket. Any idea why he is not being utilized this year?
LARRY: Fantasy players should temper their enthusiasm over all Eagles WRs. Look at how many people have overestimated Reggie Brown’s potential. Nice player? Yes. Superstar? No. And with the way the Eagles spread the ball around, including to Brian Westbrook out of the backfield, its tough for one guy to put up big numbers. As for Baskett, the Eagles like Jason Avant, which is undoubtedly because a they drafted him (while acquiring the undrafted Baskett in a minor trade). There also is this possibility: Baskett maxed out in his rookie training camp, pushing his ability to the limit to make at least one notable play every practice. Now, we’re seeing what he really is: a competent NFL receiver as a No. 3 or No. 4 and a solid special teams contributor in grunt-like roles. But not a superstar.
DAN: Question #6 Is Dallas the clear-cut NFC East Division Champion? What about the N.Y. Giants? Give us your take on how the NFC East will play out.
LARRY: The Cowboys win it, the Giants finish second but make the playoffs. And that creates an interesting question: Do they keep Tom Coughlin just based on that, or does he have to win a playoff game?
DAN: Question #7 Ok, crystal ball time. Which teams will play in the AFC & NFC Championships and ultimately, the Super Bowl. Give us your predicted winners and reasoning.
LARRY: I’ll put Indianapolis at New England in the AFC Championship Game, and that isn’t good for the Colts. How about Green Bay and Dallas for the NFC Championship? For that to happen, the Packers have to keep winning, earn a first-round bye and win a playoff game at home. And then they’ll lose to Dallas, but it would be a great story. I’d like the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
DAN: Finally, where can our "Tailgaters" read more from you?