Practice Roundup – D Shows Up

Posted: July 31st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 43 Comments »

The Eagles offense got the better of the defense for the first few days of practice. That changed on Wednesday.

Let’s start with Brandon Lee Gowton’s notes.

The first interception of Eagles 2014 training camp! It’s Malcolm Jenkins who picks offMark Sanchez in a 3 on 2 drill. It wasn’t a terrible throw from Sanchez but Jenkins jumped the route and made the play. Easily would have been in a pick six in a real game. I think Sanchez was targeting either Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, but I’m not 100% sure.

Not too long after Jenkins picked off Sanchez, fellow Eagles backup quarterback Matt Barkley threw his first interception of training camp. Barkley lofted one to Josh Huffdown the sideline. Again, far from a terrible pass, but Williams out battled Huff for position on the ball. Williams was fired up after the play.

The third interception came in a redzone drill where Sanchez was picked off by Brandon Boykin. Sanchez was targeting Benn. This is only the first of many interceptions to come for Boykin.

Interception number four — that’s right, four interceptions in one day after three training camp practices with NONE — came on a Nick Foles pass intended for Darren Sproles. Jenkins was playing Sproles tight and made the play for another would-be pick six.

• Now’s a good time to mention that Malcolm Jenkins has had a really good training camp, and I’m not just saying that because he had two interceptions today. He’s been a nuisance in coverage having recorded a number of pass deflections. As I pointed out above, he’s being used to cover multiple positions: running backs, tight ends, wide receivers. Jenkins has definitely been impressive.

Training Camp is always good news/bad news. The dynamic goes something like this…for the first few days, the QBs were looking really good. No INTs. But the defense was struggling. Now the defense looks good as they come up with INTs, but the QBs are struggling. Obviously that’s an oversimplification of things, but you get the general idea. On any given play, something good and bad is happening to the team.

The key here is that you don’t want one side winning all the time. That’s when you’ve got a problem. When things go back and forth, you’re good to go.

Brandon is kind of a fan of what he’s seen from Jordan Matthews. See if you agree with my assessment.

I’m already several bullet points into this post and I haven’t mentioned The Best Wide Receiver in NFL History: rookie pass catcher Jordan Matthews. Apologies. Joking aside, Matthews was awesome. It felt like Mark Sanchez wasn’t even throwing to any other second team receivers… and that’s mostly because it was true. Matthews did a great job of working the middle of the field and getting open. Matthews is a monster with yards after the catch because of how hard he runs once he gets the ball.

In a one-on-one WR/CB drill, Matthews dominated his competition. Safety Earl Wolff had no chance on a play where Matthews ran a crisp route to create space for a Foles throw. Matthews caught the ball over his shoulder with ease. Soon after his touchdown catch, Matthews outmuscled backup safety Chris Maragos for a tough catch over the middle.

The most impressive Matthews play came on a diving catch from a Sanchez pass. The Eagles defensive backs standing on the sideline behind Nolan Carroll, who was covering Matthews, thought Carroll had made the diving interception. Matthews got to it first though and then got up to run down the field. That quickly quieted the Eagles DBs.

Matthews finished a dominant day by making two toughly contested catches in the red zone. I wasn’t sure who was in coverage because the Eagles were practicing all the way at the opposite side of the field… but Matthews was clearly impressive. The first pass was thrown nice and high just to where he could get it and he snagged it with ease.

Just so you don’t think BLG is nuts, there were plenty of other writers praising Matthews.

Jeff McLaneI thought the defensive backs also got the better of the Eagles’ receivers and quarterbacks during one-on-one drills – at least at the end of the field I was watching. Jordan Matthews, though, shined for the offense. Say what you want about the competition, but he has made all the catches so far. Now can we get him on the first team against Boykin in the slot? That’s when I’ll start making proper judgments about Matthews. 

Les BowenWish I’d been counting how many times Mark Sanchez connected with Jordan Matthews. He rarely throws to anyone else, among the the second WR unit. But it’s hard to blame him. One time yesterday, corner Nolan Carroll jumped a short route and seemed set for a pick-six. Somehow, Matthews ended up with the ball.

While Matthews is having a terrific spring/summer, let’s make sure to keep things in context. Matthews is doing what he’s supposed to do…getting the best of the competition. It does sound like things have gotten to the point where he could use a step up in competition. Chip obviously feels that Brad Smith is the better option for now, but hopefully we’ll get to see Matthews go against Boykin some time soon. That would help give us a better idea of just how much of a factor he could be this year. My goal is for Matthews to do a solid job of replacing Avant. That means 35 to 45 catches and a few TDs. And blocking well.

In a previous post I talked about Matthews compared to a traditional slot receiver like Wes Welker. I talked about Welker’s size as an issue in Kelly’s offense. Some people took this as me insulting Welker. Are we really at that point where you can’t say anything critical about a player without it being an insult? I think just about every person on planet Earth knows that Welker is a great slot receiver. He’s had an amazing career. But he isn’t what Kelly’s ideally looking for. A valid criticism is not the same thing as an insult or flat out ripping a guy. No player is perfect. Barry Sanders danced too much. Mickey Mantle struck out too much. And so on.

* * * * *

Jeff McLane had some good notes on OL vs DL.

1. Taylor Hart seemed to hold his own against some pretty tough competition, taking on Allen Barbre and then Lane Johnson. The rookie defensive end didn’t get the better of either, but he stood his ground against two athletic linemen. Hart looks like a choir boy. He looks like he needs to add more muscle to his frame. But the Eagles love him as a 4-technique and a scheme fit. It’s way too early to say for certain, but he may end up being more than an after-thought fifth rounder.

2. Tackle/guard Matt Tobin was hot and cold. He couldn’t handle defensive end Fletcher Cox (join the club!) but dominated rookie end Frances Mays. The Eagles like Tobin. He was the second tackle/guard off the bench after Barbre last season. It will be interesting to see how he’s grown once the preseason starts. Mays moves fairly well for 6-foot-9.

. With Julian Vandervelde out (back), rookie Josh Andrews moved from center to guard. He had his struggles, but did a pretty good job when matched up against rookie NT Beau Allen. Center David Molk isn’t very big (6-1, 290), even for a center, but he did a solid job holding Allen up. Molk could supplant Vandervelde for the backup center job.

4. A few of the rookies went to school when matched up against veterans. Tackle Jason Peters drove end Alejandro Villaneuva back ten yards. It was like the former Army Ranger was a blocking sled. End Cedric Thornton toyed with guard Donald Hawkins, bullrushing him off his blocks and then gave him a little extra shove at the end for good measure. Funny stuff.

5. Vinny Curry was upended by Todd Herremans during a one-on-one. He literally flipped over his head. Curry came back later, though, and jetted around guard Evan Mathis. Mathis ran inside afterward … for a new jock. Rim shot!

6. The outside linebackers joined the fray during the second session. Connor Barwin went outside in past rookie tackle Kevin GrafTravis Long couldn’t get past Andrews. Top draft pick Marcus Smith tried to fight off a double team to no avail.

Love reading that stuff.

The Eagles had Hart rated higher than a 5th rounder. Kelly wanted to take him earlier, but Howie Roseman had a feeling that he would be on the board in that area. The team waited and got the guy they wanted. Hart is a talented prospect, but his value is enhanced by the fact that he’s a perfect fit for what the Eagles want to do. He’s big enough to 2-gap, but also athletic enough to make some plays.

Tobin is a player to watch. He could be the #6 OL for the first month. He impressed the heck out of me last summer as a run blocker. His pass protection needs some work when going against athletic edge rushers. I’m curious to see what kind of progress he’s made this year.

David Molk is a player I liked a lot coming out of Michigan. He’s short, but very strong. Molk should be a good fit for the Eagles offense. I’m curious to see if he can make a strong push for a roster spot. He didn’t play last year and you never know if that was bad luck or if he’s just not that good.

Here’s a good STs note.

– Kelly was like a kid in a candy store during a drill that simulated blocking during punts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so animated as he cheered on his players or offered tips. Millions of people in this country love football, but I’d imagine he’s somewhere in the top 5. Marcus Smith did a nice job riding Zach Ertz up the line on one block. Ed Reynolds had trouble against Brad Smith both as a blocker and as a pursuer. Chris Maragos, a special teams ace, deked Murphy.

* * * * *

Interesting note from Sheil Kapadia on Foles and the WRs.

1:04 - Foles has been hand-cuffed a bit the past couple days while Riley Cooper rests because of a foot injury. It’s been Maehl on the other side of Maclin. I’d like to see one of the rookies or Arrelious Benn get a shot. Foles goes deep to Maehl, but he gets no separation against Fletcher and the pass is incomplete.

I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together, but Sheil is right. If you’ve got Maehl out there going against 1′s, you aren’t setting yourself up for success. Before you go all nuts on Kelly for Oregon worship, there is logic to this. Maehl was here last year. Benn is coming off an ACL tear. Matthews and Huff are rookies. You can argue that Maehl has earned a spot at the top of the depth chart…for now. If Maehl is there in 2 weeks, I’ve got a problem. Him being there now I can live with. Coaches like to reward continuity and seniority.

1:16 - Fletcher breaks up a Foles pass for Ertz during a red zone drill. The defensive backs got their hands on a lot of passes today. Williams with yet another breakup on a back-shoulder throw intended for Maclin.

Boykin intercepts Sanchez in the red zone. But Sanchez finds (guess who?) Matthews for a TD later in the drill.

1:29 - The length of the Eagles’ pass-catchers is showing today. Ertz stretches his arms to make a grab from Sanchez in the flat.

Benn makes a nice back shoulder grab from Sanchez (against Boykin).

And we have a Marcus Smith II sighting. The rookie rushes off the right edge and deflects a Foles pass.

Jenkins finishes up practice by jumping Sproles and intercepting Foles on what would have been a pick-six. He gets a jump in the air/butt bump from Boykin and a low-five from Kelly.

Sheil made reference to Benn making another catch in a different section. I’ve also read that he’s had a few drops. Benn isn’t showing any post-ACL effects from what I’ve heard and that’s the most encouraging thing. Let’s hope he stays healthy and continues to make plays. The coaches will move him up the depth chart eventually.

And it is good to read about Smith starting to make his presence felt on the field. He’s got a lot to learn, but you can’t teach athletic ability and he’s got plenty of that.

* * * * *

Les Bowen wrote about the Eagles throwing a lot of back shoulder fades on Wednesday.

The Eagles did a lot of work today on those back shoulder throws that have become so prevalent in the NFL, as a way to get the ball to rangy receivers who can box out like basketball big men.

Nick Foles seemed to have a very nice touch on those throws, especially. But the defensive backs hung in and battled, eventually breaking their training camp interception slump with four picks.

“That was great to see,” middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was great to see people picking up the tempo, picking up the energy, on the defensive side of the ball. We made some big plays.”

“We feel like we’ve been close the last couple of days. Today, it came together,” said Malcolm Jenkins, who picked off both Mark Sanchez and Foles.

“Y’all was talking about us yesterday — three days without an interception, stuff like that. We relayed the message,” said corner Cary Williams.

But Williams acknowledged having the quarterbacks throw behind him was no fun.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s one of the hardest throws you can defend, as a corner,” said Williams, who leaped high to bring down a Matt Barkley jump ball. “Back shoulders are just so difficult because those guys can see the ball … you get a good quarterback that can throw it at your back, some things you can’t do anything about.

“That’s what they’re coached to do, throw it at the back of our head … (the receivers) are stopping. They know where they’re going. We don’t know where they’re going, and they can see the ball, as well. It’s a part of the game. You just try to be as competitive as possible at the point of attack.”

Jenkins said: “It’s tough, because it’s the opposite of what you’re taught, basically. If you’re in good position as a DB, normally, the back shoulder’s open. That means you’re in phase with the receiver; they throw it back and away from you, it’s a tough play. It’s really all about the finish, being able to kind of get your hips around and disrupt the receiver so that he’s not making an uncontested catch. It’s hard for them, too — they’ve got to get their body around, still track the ball. But if the quarterback throws it right, it’s really hard to defend. And once you do start defending it, they’ll just throw it over the top … Today, we got a lot of ‘em.”

Good to hear the Eagles stressed this at practice. It is a good weapon for the offense and it is used a lot around the league so the defense is helped by practicing against it. Foles does make this throw very well. He’s got the touch and accuracy you need for it. I always wanted Reid to use it more in his tenure.

_


Safety and Scheme Talk

Posted: July 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 16 Comments »

You have to go back to 2008 to find the Eagles with a good pair of Safeties on the field. That was Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell. And even that wasn’t a great duo. Dawk was near the end of his great career and Mikell was never a top shelf starter.

Could this year be different?

Malcolm Jenkins will man one starting spot. Either Nate Allen or Earl Wolff will be the other starter. Today Wolff ran with the 1′s and had some good moments. Tim McManus has some details on the situation.

For much of the spring and summer, Nate Allen has occupied the starting safety spot oppositeMalcolm Jenkins. On Wednesday, though, it was Earl Wolff running with the ones.

“I saw it this morning,” said Wolff, speaking about the depth chart. “I don’t think too much of it. I just went in there, made a couple plays.”

“I thought he did well,” added Jenkins. “As far as communications he was loud, he was on point, he thought before the play. I know they’re going to be continuously rotating — even I was with the twos a couple practices ago — it’s good for him to get that exposure, those reps, and I’m watching the competition just like you guys.”

Wolff looks fully recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of action down the stretch last season. He has flashed at times early on in camp.  The most notable play came at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday, where he broke on a pass intended for Arrelious Benn along the sidelines and extended himself to come up with the deflection. The second year safety out of N.C. State is still a work in progress, but seems to be coming along.

“I feel real comfortable with everything,” said Wolff. “When it comes to my press technique, when it comes to my zone drops. I feel like last year I got out-leveraged a couple times. I feel like I’ve been doing a great job of getting width and depth at the same time. Every day I watch film, I write my corrections down and then I work on them the next day, and I feel like that’s what’s really getting me better.”

Jenkins was asked for his take on the two men fighting for the spot next to him.

“Nate is a veteran. He knows what he’s doing, he’s in the right place at the right time. I think what everyone wants to see is him just cut it loose,” he said. “Last year because he was the veteran he had to get guys lined up and that kind of slowed down his progression but I think this year playing next to me where you’ve got two veterans that can make calls, you want to see him cut it loose.

“Earl is a young player that has a lot of talent. Everything he’s done thus far has been off of raw talent and his athleticism. He just has to learn the game when it comes to being loud and decisive with his calls, knowing what offenses are giving him. And that all comes with time. You have two different dynamics  but they’re both great players and I know whoever ends up on that other side is going to be more than capable of getting the job done.”

Jenkins offers a good take on both players. Allen does need to “cut it loose”. The other day I talked about how he played on his heels too much. That’s the exact same thing Jenkins is saying. Attack. Go get the ball/runner/receiver. There is a big difference in being reckless and being aggressive. Allen is almost like a driver that goes too slow and doesn’t realize that’s just as dangerous as going too fast. Allen causes problems by being too conservative. The reason he plays that way is to avoid getting burned, but he ends up hurting the defense.

I hope Jenkins is right about the fact that having a veteran presence beside Allen will make a difference. Allen hasn’t exactly been paired with a who’s who of NFL DBs.

2010 – Quintin Mikell

2011 – Kurt Coleman

2012 – Kurt Coleman

2013 – Patrick Chung / Earl Wolff

I think Allen played his best football when he was a rookie in 2010. Coincidentally, that was the last year he was paired with a solid starter. Maybe Jenkins will be just what the doctor ordered.

As for Wolff, don’t sleep on him. He is naturally aggressive. He’s a better athlete than Allen. The biggest issue for him is simply inexperience. The presence of Jenkins will also help him. You wonder about how the need for the right guy at FS affected whether the Eagles would be interested in TJ Ward, Jairus Byrd or Jenkins. Neither Ward nor Byrd seems anywhere close to Jenkins as a leader and locker room presence. Both guys can definitely make plays, but sometimes you want more than that when trying to figure out who to add to the team. How will the new player affect the guys around him? Can he help them become better players?

I think Wolff has a very real shot to win the starting job. Allen has been a tentative player for a few years, including 2013. Can he suddenly shake loose of that and play more aggressively? Allen made a lot of progress last year, but still must get better if he’s ever going to feel comfortable about his place in the starting lineup.

Chip Kelly and Bill Davis played Wolff last year when he was just a rookie. They aren’t scared to take a chance on youth, as long as they feel the player can hold his own. Wolff certainly had some good moments last year and showed a lot of promise.

Geoff Mosher added some thoughts on Wolff.

Stock rising
Wolff’s having an outstanding camp. Yeah, it’s early, but you can see the development from day to day. He knows the defense, knows his responsibilities and is making plays on instinct. He broke up a deep pass Monday at the Linc and earned a promotion to the first team Wednesday ahead of Nate Allen.

Wolff batted down a Foles pass to James Casey over the middle in 7-on-7s — should have been picked off. A few snaps later, he stayed tight in coverage after Brad Smith tried to lose him with a double move. Smith couldn’t separate and missed a good lead pass in the end zone from Foles.

* * * * *

Sheil Kapadia wrote another brilliant piece, this time on the snag concept in the passing game. He got Coach Flinn to help him out with some technical stuff and the piece is absolutely must-read material.

During the early part of every Eagles practice, the robotic voice that emanates from the speakers at the NovaCare Complex announces a period called RVA, or routes versus air.

Five quarterbacks in red jerseys stand side by side in the middle of the field. Wide receivers, tight ends and running backs set up in one of five lines – three to one side, two to the other. The balls are snapped simultaneously, the receivers run their routes, and the passes are delivered without any defenders.

During one of the reps, the No. 1 receiver (closest to the sideline) takes off on a slant, but turns around at about 5 yards and faces the quarterback. The No. 2 receiver runs a corner route – upfield and then angling towards the sideline. And the No. 3 man (closest to the formation) shuffles towards the sideline near the line of scrimmage, keeping his eyes on the QB the entire time.

It’s a common passing concept called the snag – one that is utilized by teams across the league on a weekly basis.

Go read the piece and prepare to come away a smarter football fan. Great stuff.

* * * * *

According to Geoff Mosher the Eagles are using a lot more of the wheel route this summer.

In the Eagles’ wheel route, the halfback usually lines up next to the quarterback in shotgun, giving a pass-protection look. After the snap, the running back heads for the sideline, giving the impression of a screen or quick flare, but suddenly rotates upfield — hence the term “wheel route” — to catch the defense off guard.

And

“We have a lot of guys that can do more than run the ball,” Polk said. “Especially if a [linebacker] is on us. We feel we should win that matchup anytime. We’ve gotta get open.”

Eagles linebackers have already felt the sting of Kelly’s new toy. On Sunday, the second day of camp, outside linebacker Bryan Braman drew Sproles in coverage during a scrimmage. Sproles headed toward the right flat, then suddenly burst upfield while Braman’s momentum took him toward the sideline.

A rhino had a better chance of tracking down a cheetah. Forty yards later, a perfectly thrown ball by Foles settled in Sproles’ hands while Braman ate dust. Later, a wheel route by Polk turned into a big gain when linebacker Casey Matthews tumbled into a defensive back while trying to rotate over.

“I love those routes,” Polk said. “If it were my call, I’d love to run all of them. I just love catching and running, especially when it’s man-to-man. My eyes open up, you start salivating. It’s a great feeling.”

This is nothing new. It was in Andy Reid’s playbook. Brian Westbrook had a few big plays via the wheel route. It was in the offense last year. The Eagles may just be making it a bigger part of the playbook. Smart move with guys like McCoy, Sproles and Polk in the backfield. All 3 made impressive catches to the outside last year. Sproles made plenty of them. McCoy’s best catch was the play vs Ryan Kerrigan and the Skins. That was similar to the wheel route, but more of a direct release. Polk had a couple of good grabs. The one vs Dallas is the one I remember.

* * * * *

Doug Farrar of SI.com wrote a great piece on the Eagles running game and how Chip Kelly schemes to help his RB. There isn’t much new material in here, especially if you read the great stuff put out by Sheil Kapadia. Still, it is always good to read an outsider’s take on things. Farrar did get some good player quotes.

“We do have wide splits, and I think this is where Chip is a brainiac, is that he makes you cover the whole entire field,” McCoy said. “And that’s tough. You talk about the NFL, and the best of the best … well, he finds ways to spread the ball where we can throw it, run it, go deep on you, go short, screen passes. He has so many different options in the offense, and now you add in a guy like [Darren] Sproles, who’s deadly. So, imagine us in the backfield together with all those moves and formations. You don’t know what to think.”

It’s a universal concept with Kelly’s backs — Barner (former Oregon star RB) told me the same thing.

“It puts you in a position to succeed,” Barner said. “That’s what Coach Kelly does best — he puts you in a position at your best. Whatever your best is, that’s what the offense allows you to do. You can show everyone what you can do, and as a running back, you love that. It creates space, it creates lanes, and you can get going when you’re one-on-one with a defender.”

It would seem that an offense that is fairly stock when it comes to formations would be relatively easy to figure out. After all, the Wildcat, with its Steeler, Counter and Power iterations, went the way of the dinosaur when defenses picked up the reads and shut it down. And more standard quarterback option packages tend to last about as long as the quarterback does — and as Vick could tell you, that generally isn’t too long. The brilliance of Kelly’s system — and what will ensure its continued success — is that it combines razzle-dazzle and smashmouth in equal doses. And it’s designed from the start to make defenses guess wrong.

“In this offense, we keep you guessing,” McCoy said. “There are times when the defense says, ‘We’ve seen this — it’s a pass.’ Or they think it’s a run, and it’s totally the opposite. And I think that when you give a defense so many different looks that all look the same — the formations all look the same — it’s hard to really study them. It’s hard to really know. It keeps them off-balance, it really does.

“Our offense is a big-play offense. We’re not that kind of typical, boring three-yard offense; we keep the chains moving. That’s big here, because I feel that I get the most out of myself as far as quickness and explosion.”

Opposing coaches are certainly wondering what Kelly has in store for an encore, but his running backs already know.

_


Chip Speaks

Posted: July 30th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 56 Comments »

One of the big differences in Andy Reid and Chip Kelly is communication. Chip simply does a better job of explaining his ideas. Andy would go on and on about how you need to throw the ball to win. He would talk about doing studies that backed up his ideas, but you always felt this was like a politician who was skewing data to support the conclusion he wanted. Chip comes across as though he has no agenda. He wants to win and doesn’t care how that happens. His ideas are results based, as opposed to trying to mesh what he wants to do with random conclusions.

Ross Tucker and Bill Polian talked to Chip for Sirius XM the other day. Tucker posted the interview in his podcast. You’ll want to listen to this. There isn’t anything groundbreaking, but Chip is always insightful and Tucker and Polian asked him good questions.

The most interesting comment to me came in regard to Justin Peelle. He is now the assistant TEs coach, but was playing in the league as recently as 2011. Peelle spent a decade in the NFL so Chip picked his brain on certain things. He talked to Peelle about how players would respond to the new practices, both in terms of tempo and schedule. Peelle gave him a great answer. He told Chip that how the players felt would be the most important thing. The coaches could tell them how great the system was, but if the players didn’t feel good, they weren’t going to buy in to the system. Chip explained that longtime vets like Herremans, Cole and Ryans all told him they felt better in December than they ever had.

The players are the best salesmen for Kelly’s ideas.

Veterans from last year can explain to rookies and new players how things work and why things work. Chip and the staff will do that as well, but there are no salesmen better than your peers.

Chip talked about the speed of the offense. He was asked if the goal is to run more plays this year. Chip responded that the number of plays just isn’t important to him. He then talked about how the team had to slow down in the 2nd half of some games last year when they were working with a lead. He talked about going into the 4-minute offense in the 3rd quarter. I’ve never heard a coach say that before.

The 4-minute offense is when a team wants to keep possession of the ball and work the clock. In the 2-minute offense, you hurry to move the ball and score points. The goal of the 4-minute offense is to eat up time. Yards and points are a bonus. The key is to keep possession and keep the clock ticking. At a certain point, football becomes math. How many possessions are left in a game? Can the other team get the ball enough to catch us?

Most coaches talk about the 4-minute offense in regard to the final 10 minutes of the game. It was interesting to hear an aggressive coach like Chip talk about using it in the 3rd quarter. We did see some games last year where the Eagles slowed down in the 2nd half. The offense was almost too conservative at times. It will be interesting to see how the team adjusts this year.

Really good interview with Chip. Make sure you listen.

* * * * *

Chip also had a PC on Monday. One thing he talked about there and in the interview was Jordan Matthews as the slot receiver. Chip made the point that he likes having a bigger guy in the slot. First, the player can make a difference as a blocker in the run game. Chip mentioned what a great job Jason Avant did last year. Do you think a guy like Wes Welker would be as effective a blocker in there?

Matthews is big, athletic and talented. Just being big and a good run blocker isn’t enough. You must have someone who has the skill set to play on the inside. Most times you are going to have a smaller guy inside so he can get lost in traffic and use quickness to get open. Matthews is big, but also quick. He won’t get lost in traffic, but will give the QB a bigger target. In the podcast, Chip did point out that Matthews has impressed the coaches this offseason.

Chip was asked about whether teams will crowd the LOS without DeSean as a field-stretcher. This is an issue brought up by people all of the time. Chip talked about how defenses already played a lot of aggressive man coverage last year in order to stop the run game. Teams couldn’t sit back in Cover 2 or the Eagles would run on them. One Safety would stay deep, the other would help vs the run. No one disputes that DeSean got the extra help the majority of the time. He was the best receiver. This year Mac will get that extra help to his side most of the time. He’s more of a threat than Riley Cooper.

But this is where the beauty of Chip’s offense comes in. The old adage in baseball is “hit ‘em where they ain’t”. Chip attacks “where they ain’t”. If the D is playing tight, throw deep. If they back off, throw short. Mix in screens to the RBs and TEs. Run the ball every chance you get. Find the vulnerability and attack that spot.

Chip’s offense spreads the field horizontally and vertically. He’s taken the ideas of Bill Walsh and Sid Gillman and put his twist on them. Chip has good “space players”. Get the ball to the skill players in space and let them create big plays on their own. You can throw the ball 40 yards downfield for a big play or throw it 10 and let the player run for 40. With the right players and plays, you can create big plays on a regular basis. It goes from being luck to the proper execution of the offense.

You don’t need an elite speedster like DeSean to stretch the field. You must be able to throw the ball effectively downfield. Mac is a good deep receiver. Coop was surprisingly good at that last year. Matthews made some deep catches at Vandy. Ertz is a good vertical threat for a TE. And both Shady and Sproles can catch the ball downfield.

Finally, Chip talked about his comment to Peter King in regard to the draft. He told King he was not a fan of all the draft hype. Chip joked with the media that he doesn’t know how fans watch the Combine on TV since he’s fallen asleep while watching it in person. I get where Chip is coming from. I love the NFL draft and have for more than 20 years, but it is weird to some people. Why obsess over a bunch of kids who you know will mostly fail? I can’t really answer that. Either you get it or you don’t.

I do think there is a bit of a similarity to golf. You can go have a lousy round, but all it takes is one good shot to make you want to come back the next week. If you pick one player that your team actually drafts correctly, it can be a magical feeling. Or if you hype a mid-round guy that becomes a star, you suddenly feel like Mr. Draft. You then spend the next offseason studying players, hoping to get another player right.

Chip appreciates the importance of the draft. He just doesn’t get why fans are so enamored by it and why the media covers it so extensively. He said he felt the same way about recruiting while coaching at Oregon. Fans do need something to help get them through the offseason. Following the draft and free agency fills that void.

Here’s the video from PE.com.

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Have you ordered your copy of the Eagles Almanac yet? Last year it received the following awards:

Pulitzer prize
Nobel Peace Price
Delaware Editors Blue Ribbon
Tony Award
Peoples Choice Award

If you don’t buy a copy of the Eagles Almanac you are going to miss out on some of the greatest Eagles coverage of the 21st century. It really is that important. I mean, I would never lie to you. Ever. You’re my favorite person on Earth. Yes, you. Not the other guy, but you.

Eagles Almanac 2014

I don’t believe in high pressure sales tactics, but I will say that the hottest rumor at the local truckstop is that ladies are only going out with guys who bought at least one copy. And truckstop rumors are never wrong. Ever. Especially the ones about Jimmy Bama.

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Monday Practice Talk

Posted: July 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 104 Comments »

The Eagles were in full pads for the first time in the 2014 offseason and practiced at The Linc today. All the reports make it sound like a pretty interesting day.

Let’s start with Jeff McLane.

– The Eagles mixed up their defensive personnel yesterday, sometimes having the first team secondary rolling with the second team unit and vice versa. So when I saw Marcus Smith running with the twos I wasn’t sure if coordinator Bill Davis was simply shuffling things up. But Smith, who was with the third team throughout spring and the start of camp, was once again with the second team today. My guess is he’ll stay there backing up Connor Barwin at the “Jack” outside linebacker spot opposite Brandon Graham, who backs up Trent Cole at “Predator.” It’s difficult to say if Smith as earned the promotion or if the Eagles just want to see him playing against better competition, but it’s a natural step for the first round draft pick. Jake Knott was the other promotion, jumping from third team inside linebacker to the second team ahead of Jason Phillips. Looks like he’s out of the doghouse after being suspended four games.

– A few quickies … Zach Ertz made a strong grab in traffic when he hauled in a pass by Sanchez that was thrown slightly behind him. … But I’ll give catch of the day honors to B.J. Cunningham, who went over defensive back Davon Morgan to pull in a short-armed throw by Barkley. … Cedric Thornton, at least on one play, picked up where he left off last year when he sliced through the o-line and “dropped” McCoy. … Casey Matthews, after moving to outside linebacker last season, has been taking all his reps at inside linebacker this camp. … Celek dropped a pass from Foles. … The Damaris Johnson daily mistake came when he put the ball on the turf during a kick return. He retrieved it, but Johnson hasn’t done himself any favors through three practices.

It is good to see Marcus Smith moving up the depth chart. He’s now the backup Jack LB. No offense to Byan Braman, but I want Smith on the field as much as possible this summer. As McLane points out, there is also the benefit of getting to see him go against better competition. Right now he’ll be going against RT Lane Johnson a lot.

Also good to hear about Jake Knott. The Eagles coaches liked him quite a bit last summer. Things had been very quiet in regard to him this offseason, aside from his 4-game suspension. I wondered if Knott just hadn’t made progress or if he was in the doghouse for the suspension. I don’t know if Knott will challenge for a starting role down the road, but he can be a solid backup and good STer.

Damaris Johnson is headed in the wrong direction. He isn’t the type of WR Chip Kelly prefers so it is critical that Johnson stands out on STs. Right now he’s doing that, but in the wrong way. You want to stand out for good reasons, not mistakes. Johnson showed excellent promise back in 2012. It is really frustrating to see him struggle like this.

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Another day, another fight. Jimmy Bama offers his take on things.

For the second consecutive day at Eagles training camp, a pair of Eagles fought at the end of a play. On Sunday, it was LeSean McCoy vs. Trent Cole. On Monday, Jeremy Maclin and Bradley Fletcher squared off and threw haymakers at each other. Interestingly, not only are all of those players locks to make the team, they’re all currently first team veterans.

Before practice on Monday, Chip Kelly likened football practice fights to little kids throwing temper tantrums.

“Yeah, their emotions got the better part of them,” said Kelly. “Those things happen. It’s no different than sometimes little kids don’t get along very well and throw Tonka trucks at each other. I (think) the fact that it made SportsCenter must have meant it’s the world’s slowest sports day, I can tell you that. That two kids push each other in practice somewhere… It’s not a real big deal.”

Not a big deal?!? Did Chip not go to grade school? Where I grew up, if a fight was brewing, somebody yelled “FIIIIIGGGGGHHHT!!!!!!” Everyone within earshot immediately stopped what they were doing and watched. Is that not what it was like growing up in Manchester, New Hampshire, Chip? Because we were far less mature down here in the Philly suburbs.

I have to side with Chip on this. Fights aren’t a big deal to me unless they get out of hand (which is very rare) or the two guys going at it have something noteworthy about them. Nick Foles vs Cary Williams? I want to read about that. Maclin vs Williams? Not so much. But I’m probably in the minority on this…so read Jimmy’s post and enjoy his artwork.

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Now onto Sheil Kapadia and his take from Monday.

12:44 - The Eagles have a “Formations” period every practice. The offense lines up against the defense, and it’s all about motioning, shifting, etc. Football coaches at all levels will tell you success depends on execution. But so much is determined before the ball is even snapped. Just think back to Week 17 last year when the Cowboys got Dez Bryant lined up on Chung. Anyone watching live or on TV knew that one was going to be trouble.

1:15 - We see one of these every day. McCoy and Darren Sproles together in the backfield. Sproles motions to the left, Foles fakes the handoff to McCoy to the right and then delivers the ball back to Sproles on a bubble screen.

1:20 - Perhaps the play of the day. Earl Wolff breaks on a deep ball near the sideline intended for Arrelious Benn and breaks it up. Excellent range and closing speed. Wolff is the best athlete the Eagles have at safety. If the coaches can get him to play to that athleticism, he’ll be on the field. Smith, Cary Williams and others give Wolff love for his effort.

Great point about the Formations period. Getting lined up correctly is huge. The best schemes in the world are meaningless if the players aren’t in the right spot when the ball is snapped. This isn’t as easy as it was 20 years ago when football was more static. There was less substitution. There was less going on in the way of formations and motion. You were going to see the Pro Set or the I-formation. It wasn’t hard to line up. These days a lot goes on before the ball is even snapped.

I need to write something more about Sproles. He has really grown on me. The players and coaches seem to love him. Kelly seems to have plenty of plans for him. Peter King pointed out the other day that the only reason the Saints let him go was salary.

I will not be the least bit surprised if Wolff starts opposite of Malcolm Jenkins. Wolff is more athletic and more physical than Nate Allen. Wolff needs to show he’s got the mental side of things. If he does that, he can beat out Allen. I don’t care which guys wins the job. I just want good Safety play this year. I think both will end up starting games at some point.

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Geoff Mosher also had some good notes.

Trending upward
Maybe Chip Kelly really is the genius he’s often portrayed to be. After two days of having some of Matt Barkley’s reps handed to fourth-string quarterback G.J. Kinne, Barkley responded by having perhaps his best practice of the season. Barkley made some tremendous decisions in the scrimmages and showed some extra life with his passes.

Catch of the Day
B.J. Cunningham doesn’t get much press, but the second-year wideout turned in the day’s smoothest catch, leaping near the left sideline to reel in a fastball from Barkley despite being smothered by cornerback Davon Morgan.

Stock rising
Towering wideout Ifeanyi Momah, a 6-foot-7 prospect who didn’t make the team last year and didn’t sign with anyone, made two sterling catches — a fingertip grab across the middle and another against tight coverage on the left sideline. Should be a boost for Momah’s confidence.

Mosher was really impressed with Matt Barkley, which is good to read. “Best practice of the season”? I like that. Barkley can’t relax after a good practice or two. He must work his butt off if he’s going to push Sanchez for the backup job and really impress the coaches.

I’m still on the BJ Cunningham bandwagon, but I can’t say it feels like we’re going all that far. One practice at a time, I guess.

Momah sounds night and day better than last year, but he would need a phenomenal camp to push for a roster spot. The best hope for him is to play well enough to win a practice squad spot. Even that isn’t likely, but I’m certainly glad the young man is getting a taste of success after a miserable summer last year

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Hitting Time

Posted: July 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 81 Comments »

And so it begins. The pads go on today and hitting is live. The first couple of days of Training Camp were just players in shorts. There was contact, but not the full on hitting that we love to see each summer. Today’s practice will be at The Linc and is open to the public. I hope a lot of you are able to go and enjoy the day’s activities.

My PE.com column is about Training Camp and some of the players to watch. This is a huge opportunity for some players. Lives can change, good and bad. Back in 2011 some guy named Evan Mathis emerged as a starting OL after practicing well. Other players struggle and that can be the beginning of the end for them. This could be a young guy like Ifeanyi Momah or a veteran like Felix Jones.

I’d love to tell you that a lot of borderline players will look great for the Eagles and the summer will be nothing but good news. We know that’s not how things work. You don’t mind some bottom of the roster guys struggling. You get worried when veterans that had key roles don’t play well.

There isn’t one player that I’m overly concerned about. I guess a bad summer from Todd Herremans would be one thing that would get my attention. The OL has issues because of the Lane Johnson suspension. We need the 4 returning starters to all play well.

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PE.com posted some good practice notes from Sunday. UDFA receiver Kadron Boone is an interesting prospect. I’m not sure he’s athletic enough for the NFL. I love his size and he has good skills, but I wonder about speed and quickness. He did test well, but that athleticism didn’t always show up on game tape. Boone has had some good moments in the OTAs and first days of camp.

In the final team drill, Barkley delivered another beauty deep down the left sideline for rookie wide receiver Kadron Boone, who scored the would-be touchdown.

“Matt threw a perfect ball and I just caught it in stride,” Boone said.

Boone signed with the Eagles as a rookie free agent following the 2014 NFL Draft. Playing at LSU behind first-round pick Odell Beckham and second-round pick Jarvis Landry, Boone finished his Tigers career with 44 receptions for 611 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot, 202-pound Boone is used to making the most of limited opportunities.

“That was the situation for me in my last year. We had two good receivers who went early in the draft. One thing that I was always taught was when your number is called, be ready to make a play,” Boone said.

“I just brought the same mentality over. If I get five reps, I’m going to make the most of those five reps. The one thing about here is you’re going to get a lot of reps. With those reps, I just make sure I do what I’m supposed to do. And if it’s not catching the ball, then it’s being where I’m supposed to be. Make sure I’m on my block, focusing on the little things.”

Maybe the NFL will bring out the best in Boone. I’d love to see him push for a practice squad spot.

Those quotes came from a good interview that Chris McPherson did with Boone. I came away impressed with the young man.

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Elliot Shorr-Parks is really focused on QBs this summer. He is keeping track of all the throws and compiling the information.

Mark Sanchez
Reps on Sunday: 34 reps (all with second team)
Stats on Sunday: 21/23, 1 TD, 0 INT
Analysis from Sunday: For the second day in a row, Sanchez was extremely sharp. Sanchez had a beautiful ball down the right sideline for a touchdown to receiver Jeremy Maclin that was about 45 yards. The veteran quarterback put the ball right where it needed to be, and hit Maclin in stride over his shoulder. What has been most impressive about Sanchez is how he is not taking chances with the ball. Given his reputation for turning the ball over during his time in New York, Sanchez has placed very few passes into double coverage. He did have one pass nearly picked off on Sunday, but that was one of only his only bad passes so far in camp. 
Total Stats 63 reps (all with second team), 38/44, 1 TD, 0 INT
Stock: Up

Go read the post to get the info on all 4 QBs. He’s got notes on Nick Foles. Some of you have asked for more info on Foles. The attention the first couple of days was on the backups since they played well after a poor spring. Foles didn’t have a great showing on Sunday, but he had a terrific spring and looked good on the opening day of camp. You’re not going to notice him as much unless he does make a mistake.

It is interesting to see Elliot keep track of the numbers. You have to be careful about putting too much into them. You need context to really have a good feel for how a guy looked. I appreciate the effort since I’m an out of town analyst and PE.com is no longer allowed to show extensive camp footage.

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Bill Davis had his PC on Sunday. He didn’t say anything too wild, but I always enjoy listening to him.

Davis pointed out that for the first couple of weeks the defense would use a variety of groupings instead of strictly being 1′s and 2′s and so on. The goal is to see how different groups play against different competition. For instance, he wants the backup DBs to face the starting WRs. The DL rotates a lot so there will be times when the starting DL is out there with backup DBs.

Eventually this will all settle down and things will become more about starters and backups.

Davis admitted that the Eagles played DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks too much last year. He wants to give them more rest. That’s good news for Najee Goode and some other backup LBs. Sounds like the Eagles will do more with sub-packages and backup players.

While the Eagles tackled better last year than in the previous couple of seasons, Davis talked about the need to improve even more. The biggest issue he noticed was head placement. This is mostly in reference to tackling a player who you are attacking from the side. When a defender does that, he needs to take the correct angle and get his head in front of where the player is going. It will then be easier to wrap up with the arms. Last year too many Eagles were getting their head head behind the target and then they had to reach for the body of the runner/receiver. That led to missed tackles.

Paul Domowitch wrote about Davis comments on how the defense will look different this year. Expect it to be less vanilla. One comment stood out to me.

“A year ago, you saw more assignment football,’’ Davis said. “Guys were studying hard to know their assignment and what was asked of them, but didn’t really understand the whole picture and how they exactly fit with their teammates.

Good defense is about 11 guys functioning as one. They have to work together. You saw elements of this last year, but also saw plenty of times when the defense looked like 11 individuals on the field. That was to be expected because of the scheme change and new faces. This year they know the scheme and there is stability with the lineup. The defense should play more as a group. And better.

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