A Better Defense

Posted: May 15th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 38 Comments »

The Eagles defense was about as bipolar as it gets in 2021. There were times when the defense was outstanding and shut people down. There were other times when the unit seemed more like a speed bump than a real obstacle.

Dave Spadaro listed some of the highlights:

1. The defense allowed 18-or-fewer points in 10 games, tying Buffalo and Denver for the most such games in the league. Not since the 2004 season (11 games) had the Eagles accomplished that feat.

2. Philadelphia allowed only 117 explosive plays (16-plus yards in the passing game, 10-plus yards on the ground), the fewest in the NFC and tied for fifth-fewest in the NFL.

3. With five touchdowns scored, the Eagles were tied for second in the NFL in that category and they ranked 10th in the NFL allowing just 328.8 yards per game.

Wow, that’s all very impressive. Sounds like a damn good defense. But…

Football Outsiders ranked the Eagles 25th in defensive DVOA. The team allowed 41 or more points three times. They were dead last in the league in completion percentage allowed (69.4%). And that number was higher at midseason. The Eagles had to get hot to get the number down to that. The defense was 31st in sacks. QBs simply weren’t challenged enough in 2021.

Will the defense be better in 2022?

Let’s look at personnel changes.

OUT

CB Steve Nelson
FS Rodney McLeod
DE Ryan Kerrigan
LB Alex Singleton
LB Genard Avery
LB Eric Wilson
DT Hassan Ridgeway

IN

LB Haason Reddick
LB Kyzir White
DT Jordan Davis
LB Nakobe Dean

The Eagles didn’t exactly lose much. They also didn’t add anything to the secondary (beyond UDFAs). That could change, but the Eagles are banking on returning players taking a big step forward. They think guys like Marcus Epps, Zech McPhearson, K’Von Wallace and Andre Chachere are going to be better than people on the outside think.

Reddick gives the team a difference-maker up front. He can fly off the edge and wreak havoc. In the past two years, he had 23.5 sacks and 8 FF. The forced fumbles stat is key. We know Jonathan Gannon really preaches the need for takeaways. To put that number in perspective. Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett have combined for 7 FF in their careers.

White and Dean bring speed and talent to the middle of the defense. They can cover a lot of ground, which is crucial for Gannon’s scheme.

Davis is critical because of his talent and versatility. He can play NT, DT or even DE. You can put him at nose and then have Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave as DEs in a 3-man line. That group could play the run effectively and allow the safeties to stay deep and focus on coverage.

Milton Williams also becomes a key player. He can play NT, DT or DE. Williams is a tremendous athlete and showed real potential last year. If he takes a big step forward this year, he will give Gannon another piece to move around and be creative with.

Davis and Williams give the Eagles depth on the inside. Cox and Hargrave can play less when backed up by talented players.

We know one of the changes that has to take place is Gannon getting more creative and more aggressive. He was way too passive last year. It was torturous at times. Late in the season, he started to open things up a bit.

Fran Duffy gives a good breakdown of some creative blitzes from a December game. If Gannon spends more time attacking up front and trying to confuse QBs on the back end, the defense has a chance to be consistently good in 2022. Last year they shut down bad QBs and bad offenses. The Eagles then struggled any time they played a quality QB. That has to change.

It is possible that Howie Roseman will keep looking for more talent. There have been rumors that the Ravens might trade safety Chuck Clark. CB James Bradberry just got cut last week. More players will become available as some rookies and other young guys emerge.

Part of me would like to see the Eagles stick with the young guys. See what they can do. But those players have to show something in minicamps and in Training Camp. We know Howie will keep his eyes open for veteran talent, just in case.

*****

The Eagles have a LB group.

They have a DL group.

Now they have an edge rusher group.

All the groups are getting coached differently, as the roles are different.

The LBs play off the ball. They need to be able to diagnose plays, shed blocks, tackle well and also cover on pass plays.

The DL must be able to play 1-gap and 2-gap techniques. They need to be able to line up in different spots.

The edge rushers must be able to rush off the edge more than anything. They also need to be able to set the edge on run plays. They also could have coverage responsibilities so they need to work on that.

*****

Going back to Jordan Davis, here is a great breakdown of him from Josh Norris and Ben Fennell. This will get you fired up to see the big guy in action.

Can’t wait.

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Finding Talent Finders

Posted: May 9th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 10 Comments »

The draft is over and the Eagles have stocked the roster with young talent. Howie Roseman now has to turn his attention to rebuilding the personnel department, after losing several key members in the past few months.

Nothing is official, but the team has already started making moves.

Walls is a good addition. He spent seven years with the Packers, with five coming as a college scout. Walls focused on the southwest region. The Browns hired him away in 2019 to serve as a national scout.

The Packers have had a strong scouting department for the past 30 years. Ron Wolf built it up and they have produced some outstanding talent evaluators. Ted Thompson did a great job in recent years of training and developing scouts. Walls knows the grind of working a region. He got to see the national side of things in Cleveland so that gives him a wider background.

Here is a video of him talking to the media after last year’s draft. Love hearing guys talk about their team’s draft picks.

Walls will only be part of the equation.

Myers is someone that has stood out to me on my Senior Bowl trips. I watched him talk to players and other scouts. He just had a good presence about him. The last Eagles scout who stood out to me like this…Brett Veach, now the Chiefs GM.

We talk about scouts and evaluating football skills. A huge part of the process is building relationships so you can gather information. I could tell Veach was masterful at that and Myers comes across the same way. I’m happy for his promotion and think he’s got a very bright future.

Brown has extensive experience on both the pro and college sides of scouting. He’s interviewed for some GM roles in recent years so that tells you he’s got a good reputation around the league.

Brown worked with Nick Sirianni and Jonathan Gannon in Indy so you can see where bringing him to Philly would appeal to both sides. One of the biggest challenges for personnel guys is finding coaches who will get on the same page as them. This would be a natural fit.

If Brown is currently the director of college scouting, the Eagles would have to give him a big title to bring him over. We’ll have to see if this move actually happens.

So far it does feel like Howie is making smart moves as he rebuilds the personnel department.

*****

Will the Eagles have interest?

He would certainly make sense. Bradberry has good size and experience. He has at least 3 INTs in each of the past three seasons. We know Gannon really focuses on creating turnovers so that would definitely appeal to  him.

At the same time, the Eagles weren’t in a rush to find CB help a year ago when things were more wide open. They have now had a year to work with Zech McPhearson and may want to see him on the field. They also have Tay Gowan and Kary Vincent in the mix.

I don’t anticipate the Eagles getting into a bidding war for Bradberry. If other teams are hot on his trail, he’ll probably end up elsewhere.

*****

Let’s go back to the Eagles draft for a minute. ESPN’s college football writer Adam Rittenberg talked to college coaches to get their take on some players/picks. The coaches had great things to say about Nakobe Dean.

Linebacker Nakobe Dean’s prolonged and painful wait — through the first round and well into the third, when the Philadelphia Eagles drafted him — became one of the top stories of the draft. Coaches who saw Dean become an All-American at Georgia and lead one of the most dominant defenses in recent memory shared in the surprise that he wasn’t selected earlier.

“He literally does not allow you to run the football in the SEC,” an SEC offensive coordinator said of Dean. “If you put Nakobe Dean on an edge, he would be more productive and better than [former Georgia player and first-round pick] Jermaine Johnson ever will be. That’s what’s so amazing to me about that league [the NFL]. They get so many resources and so much money, and you’re not going to take Nakobe Dean?”

Dean’s health situation and measurables — he measured 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds — likely contributed to the drop. An assistant who faced Georgia this year noted, “People don’t like short linebackers in the NFL,” but thought Dean would go early in the second round.

A Power 5 defensive coordinator attributed Dean’s situation to changes in the NFL and how teams are assessing linebackers.

“Teams want versatility,” he said. “They want length and speed, so if you’re Dean and you’re 5-11, they want to see that Tampa Bay linebacker [Devin White] speed. And he didn’t run a 40. With the wideouts now, it’s such a passing league and you’re paying DBs because you’ve got to stop the wideouts. Everything is about the pass. Your top-paid positions are quarterback, tackle, D-end and corner/wideout.”

Interesting stuff.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Dean in action. I hope he proves to be a major steal for the Eagles.

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Changes

Posted: May 7th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 26 Comments »

The Eagles had some interesting changes taking place this past week, on and off the field. Let’s take a look at what happened.

We’ll start with the roster.

Herbig is a strange player. He was never great, but played relatively well. Something must have gone on behind the scenes because the Eagles never seemed to be happy with him. They originally wanted him to play C, but Herbig had major issues with bad snaps. He was solid when playing OG.

The Eagles weren’t going to make a long term commitment to Herbig, so 2022 was going to be his final season here. The team tried to trade him, but either asked for too much or teams decided to wait, knowing the Eagles very well might release him. The drafting of Cam Jurgens gave the Eagles another body on the interior line and may have expedited Herbig’s departure.

The Eagles gain cap space from the move, which can be used if they decide to pursue a free agent in the next couple of months. There is a lot of speculation right now about the Giants releasing CB James Bradberry. The Eagles might have interest in him.

There is still good depth on the inside of the OL.

LG Landon Dickerson ….. Sua Opeta
OC Jason Kelce ……………. Cam Jurgens ……. Jack Anderson
RG Isaac Seumalo ……….. Kayode Awosika

Opeta has flashed when he got on the field. Nick Sirianni was singing his praises recently. Awosika played well last summer and could be a good backup OG. I like his potential quite a bit.

The Eagles added a pair of UDFA OL in Bill Dunkle and Josh Sills. Both remind me of Herbig, in terms of size and ability. Obviously he showed he could play in the NFL and they are complete unknowns, but Herbig isn’t some unreplaceable commodity. Dunkle is the better prospect. Sills is more athletic and more versatile. We’ll see how they play.

*****

This is the official list of UDFAs. There are a couple of changes from the group I covered the other day.

QB EJ Perry is out. Apparently the Eagles didn’t think they would get Carson Strong so they went after Perry. Once they did get Strong, Perry decided to go elsewhere, which is smart. He’ll be down in Jacksonville, working with Doug Pederson.

The Eagles added pass rusher Ali Fayad.

Fayad is 6-2, 248. He had a great season for Western Michigan, with 13 sacks and 2 FF. Fayad went undrafted due to a lack of idea size and athleticism. He’s got short arms, which can hurt pass rushers. And he’s more football player than athlete. The Eagles are listing him at LB. He will be a backup at SAM.

The Eagles are committing to that position.

Haason Reddick
Kyron Johnson
Patrick Johnson
Ali Fayad
Joe Ostman

If the Eagles go to more 3-4 looks, these guys could rush from both OLB spots.

*****

The changes off the field are in the scouting department. Lots of stuff is going on. We don’t know why the changes are taking place. Contracts for scouts/personnel people expire in early May so some of this could simply be that.

  • Brandon Brown – left for promotion with Cleveland Browns
  • Ian Cunningham – left for promotion with NY Giants
  • Catherine Raiche – expected to leave for promotion with Browns
  • Tom Donahoe – contract expired, might be retiring since he’s 75

The changes didn’t all come at the senior level.

Casey Weidl, TJ McCreight and Shawn Heinlen are all gone. Weidl is the most interesting name. He is the brother of VP of Player Personnel Andy Weidl. Would the Eagles let Casey go if Andy is staying? Andy is a candidate for the Steelers GM job, but it doesn’t feel like he’ll get that.

The Eagles have been interviewing people to add to the personnel department. One of the people they’ve talked to is Brandon Hunt of the Steelers. He’s up for their GM job, but is also talking to the Eagles. The team also met with Jim Nagy, who runs the Senior Bowl. Nagy has worked as a scout for a few teams until the past few years. He would be a good addition. Nagy has connections all over the league and all over the college football world after his time running the Senior Bowl.

Howie Roseman has done a good job of hiring people when you look at the way other teams have hired from the Eagles staff. Joe Douglas and Andrew Berry left in the past couple of years and then Brown, Cunningham and Raiche were hired away this year. Come work for the Eagles. If you do a good job, you’ll either get promoted or hired away by another team.

It will be interesting to see who the Eagles do bring in, but the most important move may be keeping Andy Weidl around. The past few drafts have gone well. The Eagles seem to be making better choices. The new coaching staff embraced the draft picks and tried to get them on the field.

The Eagles still have good scouts in place. They still have Weidl. They need to bring in some more pieces to fill out the front office and keep the personnel department performing at a high level.

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Meet the UDFAs

Posted: May 1st, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

The Eagles had a good draft class and then got busy on the phones, trying to build a strong UDFA class. You never know when you’ll find the next T.J. Edwards, Nate Herbig or Marcus Epps. Good players go undrafted every year.

Here is the unofficial list so far:

QB Carson Strong
QB EJ Perry
RB Kennedy Brooks
WR/RS Britian Covey
OT Jarrid Williams
OG William Dunkle
OG Josh Sills
DT Noah Elliss
CB  Mario Goodrich
CB Josh Jobe
CB Josh Blackwell
FS Reed Blankenship

*****

QB Carson Strong – Nevada – 6-3, 226

3-year starter with a powerful arm. If healthy, had a chance to be the top QB picked. Strong has major knee issues. He was advised not to play in 2021 by everyone around him. Strong felt an obligation to support his teammates and worked out a faster recovery time so he could get back on the field with them. You can bet that level of commitment made Nick Sirianni fall in love with him.

Strong’s early return led to erratic play. His numbers were good and Nevada got off to a 5-1 start, but scouts saw issues. Strong had very limited mobility. He did everything he could to play in games. During the week, he would sometimes ride in a golf cart to rest his leg for Saturdays. That should tell you how serious the injury was as well as how strong his commitment to play was. Strong’s weak leg affected his mechanics. He became more of an arm thrower.

Strong got healthier and better as the season went along. I thought he looked pretty good at the Senior Bowl. At his best, he is a very impressive passer. He has a very strong arm and can make every throw in the book. He is a good deep thrower. Beyond just a powerful arm, he is accurate down the field. Strong is a smart, accurate passer on short and intermediate stuff. He anticipates receivers coming open and can put the ball in very tight windows.

This is a great signing by the Eagles. Strong might remind you of Philip Rivers, who Sirianni coached in SD and Indy. The Eagles are set at QB heading into the 2022 season so Strong can play, sit, rest or whatever he needs. The focus can be on his future rather than right now. If he’s ready to play, the Eagles can mix him in judicously. If Strong never pans out, he just cost money.

Strong has the potential to develop into a starting QB in the future.

QB EJ Perry – Brown – 6-2, 211

Brown is a dual-threat QB who started two years at Brown. He threw for 6,258 yards and 47 TDs, while running for 1,202 yards and 16 TDs. He is a bit thin, but has a good frame. Brown has a live arm. He’s a good athlete. His ability to run wasn’t just due to facing Ivy League competiton. Brown went to the E-W Shrine game and was the offensive MVP, going 13-18-241 with 3 TDs. He also ran for a score.

I don’t understand Perry signing with the Eagles. He is a solid prospect. I would think he would have been better served going to other teams. I wonder if the Eagles told him Strong would sit this season and Perry would have a good chance to compete for the #3 QB job. I’m glad he did come to Philly. He is a talented prospect with the tools to be an NFL QB.

RB Kennedy Brooks – Oklahoma – 5-11, 209

Ran for 1,000 or more yards each of his last three seasons. Averaged 7.0 yards per carry and had 31 TDs. Went undrafted because he’s not special athletically and also isn’t special in terms of size or skill. Just a good RB. Those guys tend to go undrafted, but they can still carve out an NFL career. Brooks is an interesting runner. He doesn’t make hard lateral cuts. He goes slow, reads blocks and then fires upfield. Brooks runs behind his pads and goes through contact. He breaks a lot of tackles. Brooks doesn’t have breakaway speed. He ran 4.61 at the Combine and that’s what you see on the field. He needs work as a receiver and a blocker.

Brooks is a good fit for the Eagles running scheme. He can take advantage of good blocking and get up to the second level. It will be interesting to see if he can deliver big plays in the NFL. The lack of speed wasn’t as big a deal in the Big 12. Brooks also isn’t meant to be an NFL workhorse. His best shot is being part of RB by committee.

WR/RS Britian Covey – Utah – 5-8, 169

Small, explosive athlete who was a good receiver and dynamic returner. Ran back 4 punts for TDs and 1 kickoff for a score. Makes quick, deicisive cuts. Once he gets some space, has the burst to get down the field. Good long speed. Ran 4.48 at his Pro Day. Might be even faster on the field. As a receiver, played in the slot and outside. Would be a slot receiver in the NFL.

The Eagles need to get more dynamic in the return game. Covey gives them a chance to do that.

OT Jarrid Williams – Miami – 6-6, 323

Williams began his career at Houston and then transferred to Miami. He started at RT for both schools. Williams is an agile, athletic blocker. He ran 5.16 in the 40 and had a vertical of 31 inches. That shows up on tape, not just workouts. The Eagles aren’t set at RT behind Lane Johnson. Williams has a chance to earn a roster spot if he plays well. He could also be a good developmental prospect, spending 2022 on the practice squad and then competing for a spot in 2023. Williams must learn to use his hands more consistently. His pad level can also be an issue at times. He has good tools to work with, but definitely needs work.

OG William Dunkle – San Diego State – 6-5, 328

Dunkle was a 3-year starter at RG for the Aztecs. He is big, strong and nasty. Outstanding run blocker. Has pretty good feet. Able to get movement on the front side or seal off the back side. Can be too high at times, but has the strength to still win. Has a real mean streak. Destroys LBs/DBs when he has the chance. Nickname is Dunkzilla. Reminds me of Nate Herbig.

OG Josh Sills – Oklahoma State – 6-6, 322

Began his career at West Va, then transferred to OSU. Started 48 total games, mostly at LG. Started at all five spots during his career. You can bet the Eagles value his size and versatility. Powerful run blocker with a nasty streak. Likes to finish blocks and mix in shots whenever he can. Decent athlete. More mauler than technician. Can get out of control at times. Gets out over his feet and off balance. The kind of big, powerful OG the Eagles tend to like.

DT Noah Elliss – Idaho – 6-4, 346

Elliss is the son of former Lions star DT Luther Ellis (2 Pro Bowls, 29 career sacks). Noah tried to go to Mississippi State, but had academic issues and ended up at Idaho. He played in 21 games over three seasons. Elliss was at his best in 2021, notching a career high 46 tackles and 6.5 TFLs. Dominant at times, but that was against mediocre competition. Still, has incredible combination of size and strength. A real bully. When he keeps his pad level down, just destroys blockers. Stood out at the Shrine Game practices.

The Eagles wanted to get bigger in the middle of the defense. Between Elliss and Jordan Davis, that job is done.

CB  Mario Goodrich – Clemson – 6-0, 191

Got four starts in 2020 and then became full time starter in 2021. Has okay size, but is a limited athlete. Played a lot of press in college, but will be a better fit at playing off in the NFL. At his best when keeping things in front of him and then attacking the ball. Had 5 career INTs. Broke up 8 passes in 2021. Solid hitter and tackler. Aggressive style. Ran 4.56 at his Pro Day and had VJ of 31 inches. Not fast or explosive.

The Eagles have a bunch of young corners competing for roster spots and playing time. Goodrich has a chance at both.

CB Josh Jobe – Alabama – 6-0, 184

2-year starter who had a disappointing senior season. Played at a high level in 2020, when he was across from Patrick Surtain. Jobe broke up 11 passes and had 2.5 TFLs, 2 sacks and 2 FF. He was a playmaker. A nagging foot injury affected Jobe throughout 2021 and he wasn’t nearly as effective or productive. He broke up 6 passes and picked off 2. Jobe is at his best as a physical press corner. He shows solid athleticism on tape. Due to the foot injury, he wasn’t able to work out prior to the draft.

I was surprised that Jobe went undrafted. He was great value as a UDFA. We’ll see if he can get healthy and return back to his 2020 form. If he does that, he’s a legit threat for a roster spot.

CB Josh Blackwell – Duke – 5-11, 183

Started 28 games for Duke in a defense that played a lot of man coverage. Has spent a ton of time on an island. Ran 4.34 at his Pro Day. Broke up 20 passes in his career, but never picked off a pass. That doesn’t say much for his ball skills. Blackwell has an uphill battle as he competes for a roster spot. That speed will help, but he needs work.

FS Reed Blankenship – MTSU – 6-1, 204

Watch some tape and you can see why the Eagles like him. Blankenship is a good athlete. He’s got quick feet and runs well. He’s got outstanding movement skills. Excellent change of direction. Good closing speed. He moves like an NFL DB. Now for the not so good. Blankenship is an erratic tackler. There is no lack of effort or toughness, but he needs a lot of work. Too often he’s a drag-down tackler, meaning he gets his hands on the target and then tries to drag him down to the ground. That will not work in the NFL. When Blankenship is deep and comes up in a hurry to make a tackle, he can be out of control. All it takes is a quick cut or move and he whiffs. Blankenship must do a better job of coming under control before trying to engage the runner/receiver. He is a versatile player. I saw him line up deep, in Cover 2 and in the box. He can cover slot receivers. Blankenship generally does a good job of reading plays and getting to the right spot. Good playmaker. Had 9 career INTs. Very productive senior season: 1 INT, 2 FF, 3 FR, 8 PDs, 1 sack, 110 tackles.

I’m sure the Eagles love the combination of his athleticism, versatility and production. Blankenship does need to get stronger and he must improve his tackling. He has legit NFL potential. His future will be tied to his ability to fix the weak spots in his game.

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Eagles Add LB, TE on Day 3

Posted: April 30th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 3 Comments »

The Eagles are done with the 2022 NFL draft, unless they trade into the seventh round. The team entered the day with two picks and made a couple of trades that ended with them making a pair of sixth round selections.

6 – 181 – LB Kyron Johnson – Kansas

Johnson was a late addition to the Senior Bowl and immediately opened everyone’s eyes. He is only 6-0, 231, but Johnson played with great leverage and drove big OTs back rep after rep. Who was the little dude kicking all those big guys asses? Kyron Johnson.

He stood out as a pass rusher at KU. Johnson is short and only has 31 1/2 inch arms, but he makes up for that by being a gifted athlete. He ran 4.40 in the 40, jumped 39.5 inches and had a 6.98 3-cone time. That shows speed, explosion, quickness and agility.

I think the Eagles want him to be the backup SAM. They are going to make a lot of plans based on Haason Reddick being both a LB and rusher. If he gets hurt, there isn’t anyone of note behind him. Johnson can now step into that role. He’ll be ready to rush right away, but will need to work on coverage and playing off the ball.

Good pick.

6 – 198 – TE Grant Calcaterra – SMU

I remember watching Oklahoma games and seeing this young TE making big catches. He wasn’t draft eligible, but I filed the name away for down the road. Unfortunately Calcaterra had injury issues and ended up transferring to SMU for his senior season. He posted his best numbers, going 38-465-4. He is a good athlete who can run (4.62) and catch the ball. Calcaterra will need a lot of work as a blocker.

The Eagles have a star TE in Dallas Goedert. They have second year player Jack Stoll, who is more blocker than receiver. If Goedert gets hurts, the Eagles need someone that can get open and catch the ball. Calcaterra can be that guy.

Calcaterra is 6-4, 241 so he’s not a big TE, but that’s okay size for someone who is primarily a receiver. He can bulk up to 250 as he gets ready for the league.

Solid pick.

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