The Eagles had Saturday off, but we can still look back at what went down on Friday when the team was in action.
Let’s start off with Jimmy Bama. He had several good nuggets. First up, his take on CB Nolan Carroll.
For the third consecutive practice, a player in the Eagles’ defensive secondary flashed. Today it was free agent acquisition Nolan Carroll, who had an impressive diving interception. Before we commence with the Carroll love, there are two important disclaimers to note:
1) Like we noted previously with Jordan Matthews, Nolan Carroll is running with the second team. Therefore, he’s not seeing the same level of competition as Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, who are typically facing the first team offense.
2) While Carroll has had an inordinate number of pass breakups, he did not have an interception until today. Some of those chances have been outright drops, like today, when he had a chance to pick off two additional passes. Pass breakups are good, but it would be preferable, obviously, if Carroll could convert those opportunities into turnovers.
Still, what Carroll has shown so far has been very impressive. In OTAs and minicamp, when defensive backs are not allowed to jam receivers, the advantage is blatantly slanted toward the offense. Even then, Carroll did a great job breaking up passes. Now that the pads are on and the DBs are allowed to get their hands on receivers, the secondary has looked better to an obvious degree. The defense as a group has in turn also gotten their hands on a lot of footballs, but none more than Carroll. He has been a pass breakup machine.
At the end of the 2014 season, Bradley Fletcher will be a free agent. In 2015, Cary Williams will count for over $8 million against the salary cap. Carroll is a legitimate candidate to start this season, but even if he can’t crack the starting lineup, he’ll serve as very good depth, and could provide the Eagles with another option at CB in 2015 if Fletcher’s or Williams’ long term standing with the team are in doubt.
Typical Jimmy. Trying to get a player thrown off the team.
Joking aside, that’s a good take. He’s right on the money with his evaluation of Carroll and also how he might fit into the team’s plans for the future.
As for this year, Carroll has played well enough that the coaches are going to a Dime defense look with him on the field. You have to wonder if it wasn’t for Carroll, would they be doing that? The NFL is still very much passing league. DBs don’t have to start to be key contributors. Carroll also provides depth. The Eagles struggled with Bradley Fletcher out of the lineup last year. Carroll will help that situation quite a bit.
Good news for Emmanuel Acho fans.
• Big day for Emmanuel Acho, who has become somewhat of a forgotten man after many thought he would make the final 53 roster last season. With the offense running plays from their own two yard line, Acho made a pair of big plays. On the first one, he darted through the line and if the Eagles were tackling in practice, Acho would have had himself a safety. On another play, Acho was once again able to get immediate penetration and blow up a play before GJ Kinne could hand off to the running back. Kinne then had to scramble just to get out of the end zone.
ILB Jake Knott will be suspended for the first 4 games of the year. The Eagles will get a roster exemption for him. That could be filled by Acho. The team has to carry 4 ILBs. Ryans, Kendricks and Goode are locks. Beyond that, it is a fluid situation. Knott is probably the #4 guy, but Acho could win that spot. The Eagles need someone to step up and show that they can be the #4 ILB. Acho made some plays today and needs to do more of that to help his cause.
Finally, a nice note on Nick Foles.
• Nick Foles is so calm in the pocket at times. There was a play in which the offense was backed up on their own two yard line, where they faked a run to the right, and Foles rolled left. Fletcher Cox had gotten free and was bearing down in Foles’ face. Foles stopped, calmly located an open receiver, and got the ball out quickly. To note, there is obviously no hitting the QB in practice, but I think a number of other QBs would have panicked in that situation and simply thrown the ball up for grabs rather than risk being sacked in the end zone for a safety. Foles didn’t have to fear being hit, but his poise was nevertheless impressive.
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James Casey makes a grab and raises his arms for a touchdown. Then the tight ends work on double moves – selling the corner route before cutting it back in for the post. Tight ends coach Ted Williams keeps his eye on the players’ feet and makes sure they sell the first part of the route before hitting the post.
12:25 – During 7-on-7s, rookie Jaylen Watkins breaks up a pass. I didn’t notice him much in the spring, but he’s flashed the past couple of days.
1:15 – The Eagles’ offense starts off backed up at its own 2 during the team period. Cedric Thornton makes a nice play against the run on first down.
“Nice job!” yells defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro. But even when he’s complimenting guys, he sounds angry.
Nick Foles gets Trent Cole to jump offsides. And when I say jump, I mean jump – as in leaping over the offensive line. Chip Kelly gets a laugh out of that one.
When the threes get up, Acho bursts into the backfield for a safety on a run play.
With the ones, Foles finds Arrelious Benn on a back shoulder throw against Williams.
Later, Williams delivers a forearm shimmy to Benn on a crossing route.
Jaylen Watkins has kind of flown under the radar this spring and summer. It will be interesting to see where he plays in the preseason game (slot vs outside) and if he is with the backups or the 3’s. Because of the starters, Bokin and Carroll, there isn’t a lot of pressure on Watkins to play right away. He might have a hard time even being active on gameday. For that to happen, he’ll need to really stand out on STs.
Funny note on Azz. I’m pretty sure he’s my favorite assistant. I wish the media could interview him more.
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— Some readers have asked about second-year defensive end Joe Kruger this camp. He spent all of last season on Injured Reserve, which allowed him to pack on 20 lbs and get his shoulder healthy. I think he’s going to struggle to make the 53-man roster. I’ve watched three days of linemen one on ones and Kruger has had trouble getting push or past o-linemen. There are times when it’s clear the linemen are working on zone blocking techniques and maybe the effort isn’t 100 percent. The starters, whenever they’re matched up against each other, never seem to go all out. But the young guys do, as they should.
— Some other linemen observations: Alejandro Villanueva is a great story, but the transition to defensive end seems like it’s been a difficult one. The 6-foot-9 project looks too top heavy. He has a hard time holding his ground when a guard or tackle lines him up straight. Rookie nose tackle Beau Allen and defensive end Taylor Hart, on the other hand, have a strong base. Both look like legit NFL players, although I need to see more, particularly against other teams. I would be surprised if the late-round draft picks didn’t make the squad.
— You can see why the Eagles like Matt Tobin. They tried to get him to add about 10-15 pounds last offseason, but I’m not sure it stuck. He’s still listed at 290. He’s quick off the ball and seems to use his speed as leverage, much like Evan Mathis. He rocked Villanueva during one matchup, earning a smile and tap on the cap from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
Tobin is the most important backup OL right now. He played both LG and LT last summer. The Eagles need him to show that he can be an effective player if called upon in a real game. Pat Shurmur mentioned Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner as well, but my guess is that Tobin could be the top backup.
Kruger just turned 22 in early June so he is still very much a project. He might need a year on the practice squad so that he can develop and make a run at the roster in 2015. As a point of comparison, Taylor Hart is 23 1/2 years old. He played in more games in college and is just more NFL ready.
As for Villanueva, he was always going to be a long shot. He was mostly an offensive player at West Point. He’s been out of football for years and is trying to learn a new position. Think of him as this year’s Momah. You can’t be away from the game of football for multiple years and not be rusty.
You love to see this: Jason Kelce stayed after practice to work with Villanueva and a number of undrafted rookie offensive linemen.
Kelce is a terrific player. He also is quickly becoming an important team leader.
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• Mark Sanchez targeted rookie undrafted rookie free agent tight end Trey Burton a number of times. I haven’t noticed Burton too often in camp but he stood out today. Now’s the part where I joke about Sanchez is cheating on favorite passing target: rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
• First play of 7-on-7: Nick Foles is intercepted on a short pass by safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins has had an excellent camp. He’s recorded at least three interceptions. Meanwhile, that was Foles’ third total interception in training camp. He’s thrown one on each of the last three practices. All of Foles picks have come on short throws.
• The third interception was the most impressive. Nolan Carroll made an incredible diving interception on a G.J. Kinne pass thrown to the left side of the field. Carroll dropped two other interceptions on Friday, both from Mark Sanchez passes. As I wrote earlier this week, Carroll has a real chance of stealing a starting cornerback job if he continues to play this well.
More love for Jenkins and Carroll. Always love to read about those guys.
Glad to read about Burton. He is an undersized athlete who the Eagles might want to develop at TE. I’m not sure he’ll make a strong push for a roster spot this year, but he could be ideal for the practice squad. Excited to see him in a game.