Looking for Number 3

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 74 Comments »

Matt Barkley had the best spring of his young NFL career. That’s the good news. The fact it wasn’t anything to write home about…that’s the bad news. So far, the bar has been set pretty low.

The Eagles like Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez. Beyond that, things are wide open. Barkley could play his way onto the roster. Tim Tebow could play his way onto the roster. It is possible that the guy who struggles the least will end up surviving.

The x-factor here is that Tebow is versatile. He can run the ball and help the team in some other areas if the coaches want to get creative with him. Barkley is a pure pocket passer.

The interesting scenario is one where Barkley does get traded (for 2 turntables and a microphone). Does GJ Kinne move back to QB? Do the Eagles have someone on the street they would add to compete for the job? Even if the Eagles want Tebow to win the job, they need a body to help with practice and preseason reps.

The focus this summer will be on Bradford and Sanchez, but it will also be interesting to see how Barkley and Tebow play. Barkely was better in the spring, but it wasn’t as if he did anything special. Tebow was awkward in his first time back in an NFL setting in a while. Tebow could take a step forward in Training Camp, now that he’s had time to digest the offense and get his feet under him.

Barkley is probably what-you-see-is-what-you-get. He’s not coming back from an injury. He’s not new here. And so on. The one thing with Barkley is that he’s a young guy and every now and then those players will have the light go on after a couple of mediocre seasons. You certainly can’t count on that, but it has happened.

It will be interesting to see if Barkley or Tebow steps up and wins the job or if the Eagles are looking for a #3 QB in a few weeks. Mike Vick is still on the market, right?

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Excitement is in the Air

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 84 Comments »

Training Camp is the first real football of the year. Players will be in pads. There will be hitting and even some tackling. The media is there everyday so we get constant reports on who is headed to Canton, Ohio and who has one foot in the football grave. Fun stuff.

This year’s camp is generating a lot of excitement because there is a great combination of curiosity and excitement. Many people feel the Eagles are going to win 10 to 13 games, despite the fact they changed QB, RB, WR, ROLB, CB, S and both OG spots.

Everyone is going to be focused on Sam Bradford, and for good reason. He is the most talented pocket passer the Eagles have had since…Jaws? Vick, McNabb and Garcia were all athletic players. Feeley was more overachiever than naturally talented. Ditto that for Ty Detmer. No one would describe Randall Cunningham as a pocket passer. He was The Ultimate Weapon.

Bradford can’t prove himself in Training Camp. He’ll have to wait for real games to do that. He can start to answer some questions and show his potential. The first order of business is obviously staying on the field. Bradford won’t be getting tackled or hit hard, but he’ll have the occasional rusher bump into him. Bradford needs to show that he can move around on the leg. He needs to show he can plant and drive when throwing. Ideally, you want to see him looking comfortable on the field. You don’t want him grimacing as he throws. You don’t want him favoring the leg. Bradford needs to look natural.

The pass rush will be live. Bradford will have to deal with bodies around him. That can be an issue for some players coming off an ACL injury. They get very protective of their legs and will focus on that more than running the play correctly. It will be a great sign if Bradford can stay focused on executing the play and not watching the rush or trying to protect his legs.

That’s the simple stuff.

Bradford will have a lot of pressure to perform well. Because of his background at Oklahoma, playing in a fast-paced offense and getting the ball out quickly should come naturally to him. Next is decision-making. You want to see him getting the ball to the right receiver. Last year Nick Foles was trying to be perfect and that led to him holding the ball too long at times. Mark Sanchez got rid of the ball quickly, which meant every game there were wide open players running down the field screaming for the ball while a checkdown target was battling for a 4-yard gain.

Back in his rookie year, Bradford was a checkdown QB when playing in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Now that Bradford is a veteran and he’s playing with a good OL and good receivers, he needs to be more aggressive. During the first few days of TC, he might focus on getting the ball out quickly, which means finding the first open receiver, often on a short route. That’s fine. If he’s still doing that on August 14, we might have an issue. You have to use the whole field. You have to use all your weapons.

Accuracy is an area where Bradford should be a step up from Foles and Sanchez. Some of you have pointed out that Bradford didn’t have a good completion percentage with the Rams. There is a big difference in accuracy and completion percentage. Accuracy is putting the ball where you want it. Completion percentage is all about receivers making catches. Bradford was very accurate at Oklahoma.

You don’t see a lot of receivers having to stop and wait for the ball. You don’t see many circus catches. Bradford put the ball in the right spot so his guys could make the catch. On many throws, he put the ball in the right spot so they could grab it on the move and then go for a big RAC play. That’s accuracy.

Completing 54 percent of your passes with a WR corps of Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Gibson and Austin Pettis doesn’t tell me a whole lot, especially when the LT is Rodger Saffold. How much time was there to throw? Were guys getting open? Were they running the right routes? Were drops an issue? And so on.

I expect Bradford to play well this summer. He’ll make some bad throws and likely have a bad day or two. That’s going to happen with a new team, a new scheme and lots of rust. Overall, I think he will look like a good starting QB and will kill any notion that Mark Sanchez can win the job.

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Jimmy Bama is the King of Training Camp. He’s great at taking notes and noticing all kinds of interesting things. Make sure you read all his reports this summer.

Bama previewed TC by making 25 predictions. My favorite ones…

12) Most likely player to have one good practice that a national reporter attends, and the reporter is flabbergasted that said player is not being talked about by the locals: Miles Austin

13) Most likely reporter to be “that guy”: Peter King

Bama vs Little Pete King? My money is definitely on Bama.

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Better D?

Posted: July 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 218 Comments »

There seems to be quite a bit of optimism in regard to the Eagles and the upcoming season. Fans are excited, but that’s to be expected. The local media seems optimistic. Even the national media is going out of their way to say good things.

Interesting stuff.

The thinking seems to be that Chip Kelly, DeMarco Murray, the OL, the skill players and Bradford/Sanchez will be a productive enough offense. The STs will be good once again. And the defense will take a major step forward.

I’m not sure what to think about the Eagles defense. There is absolutely reason for optimism. Check out this from a recent Jimmy Bama article.

In many ways the Eagles’ defense was good in 2014, especially the front seven. However, all it really takes is to have one glaring weakness to diminish all the good, as noted by defensive coordinator Billy Davis after the Eagles’ loss to the Redskins Week 16.

“The deep pass ball has got to stop,” said Davis. “That is what is giving up yards, and our points (allowed) aren’t where they need to be. There are a lot of aspects of the defense that have grown. Our run average per attempt is (good), our takeaways are in the top five, our sacks are in the top five, our opponent completion percentage is in the top five. But the one that matters most is points, and that’s the one we have to get down, and we’re not doing that. That’s a product of the deep passing game.”

The defense did some really good things. They finished 6th in takeaways and 2nd in sacks. They held opposing RBs to 3.7 ypc, which was 5th in the NFL. They only allowed one 100-yard rusher all year (Frank Gore). The defense held opposing QBs to just a 58.4 completion percentage, which was 3rd lowest in the league. If you look inside total yards (28th) and points allowed (22nd), you can see some good signs.

But the pass coverage was dreadful. More from Bama.

The Eagles’ secondary was perhaps the weakest area on the team in 2014. It was a unit that gave 72 pass plays of 20+ yards (4.5 per game!), which was the third highest total in NFL history.

That deserves a “Yikes!” for sure.

And even the good stats are a bit misleading. One of the reasons the Eagles held opponents to a low completion percentage is that teams threw deep on them. The Eagles gave up 7.8 yards per pass attempt, good for 28th in the NFL.

Think about the Eagles 49 sacks. 22 of them came in blowouts over the Giants, Panthers and Titans. Those teams had poor OL play and the Eagles feasted on them. In the other 13 games, the Eagles had a total of 27 sacks. That’s still 2 per game, but it helps put things more in perspective.

Kirk Cousins threw for 427 yards against the Eagles. Austin Davis lit them up for 375. Not exactly Brady and Manning.

Against playoff teams, the Eagles went 3-4, allowing 28 points a game. The wins came against former #1 overall picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, as well as a banged-up Tony Romo on Thanksgiving.

I don’t think anyone would dispute the statement that the defense is more talented in 2015. The question is how good will they be. Some people think the defense could be pretty darn good. I hope, but I’m hesitant to fully buy in.

Let’s look at the depth chart for now.

DE Fletcher Cox … Brandon Bair
NT Bennie Logan … Beau Allen
DE Cedric Thornton … Vinny Curry
LB Brandon Graham … Marcus Smith
IB Mychal Kendricks … Jordan Hicks
IB Kiko Alonso … DeMeco Ryans
LB Connor Barwin … Travis Long
SS Malcolm Jenkins … Earl Wolff
FS Walter Thurmond … Jerome Couplin
CB Byron Maxwell … JaCorey Shepherd
CB Nolan Carroll … Eric Rowe
NB Brandon Boykin

The DL could be outstanding, especially if Allen takes makes a leap in his second season and Taylor Hart wins the backup RDE spot. Depth is crucial to a good DL.

The ILBs could take a big step forward with the addition of Alonso. When healthy, he is big, rangy and a playmaker. He and Kendricks give the team a pair of athletic guys to cover the middle of the field. That should help with pass coverage. Ryans will see plenty of snaps and can still be good. He’s just not as athletic as the other two.

OLB is a mystery. Connor Barwin is coming off a career year. I expect him to play well, but chances are he won’t come up with 14.5 sacks. Brandon Graham will start at ROLB for the first time in his career. He was outstanding as a backup in 2014, but now must become a workhorse defender at a key position. Graham could be a breakout performer, or he could have trouble sustaining his level of play with an additional 20 snaps per game. Going from productive backup to key starter is a huge move. And who will replace Graham as the top backup OLB? Marcus Smith has a chance to be quite valuable, but has yet to show anything at the NFL level. Brad Jones and Travis Long can play ILB or OLB. The x-factor here could be if Vinny Curry gets mixed into the LB rotation. He is a terrific pass rusher. The OLBs have a lot of potential, but several question marks as well.

Safety is the biggest question on the entire defense. Malcolm Jenkins is an above average starter and a very good fit for what the Eagles want, on and off the field. Walter Thurmond is new to the Eagles and new to the position of Safety, unless you count some practice snaps here and there. Can he prove to be an effective starter? Can he be any kind of a playmaker? Can he stay healthy? Thurmond has been in the NFL for 5 years and he’s played 36 games. He makes Sam Bradford look like Cal Ripken. Thurmond does make sense for this team and for this situation. He is an ideal fit at Safety in the Eagles scheme. And the team’s Sports Science program should give him the best possible chance to stay on the field. After those two, things are wide open. Earl Wolff has potential, if his knee holds up. Jerome Couplin has potential, but he has virtually no on-field experience. Can Chris Prosinski play on defense? Jaylen Watkins could be the x-factor here. He’s played both CB and S this offseason. The Eagles seem to want him ready to go to whichever spot is more desperate.

CB should be better. Byron Maxwell is coming into his own and has outstanding potential. Nolan Carroll had a great offseason and is completely healthy. He is on top of the depth chart for now, but will be challenged by Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and possibly Watkins. Brandon Boykin is one of the better nickelbacks in the league. The Eagles lack experience at corner, but have more size and talent than in recent years.

If the Eagles stay healthy…

If Byron Maxwell plays to the level the Eagles expect…

If Walter Thurmond can be an effective starter…

This defense can take a step forward and become a pretty solid unit.

But this is no sure thing. There are a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of “ifs”.

I think the defense will be improved in 2015, but can this group be a Top 15 type of unit? I’m more hopeful than confident on that.

Watch this video and you’ll think the D was right on par with the ’85 Bears last year. It’s a bit misleading, but is well done and a lot of fun to watch. And you see big plays from a lot of returning players, which does make you feel good about the defense in 2015.

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Apologies for the delay in not posting. Go Daddy had some serious issues that affected a lot of sites. I assume Danica Patrick will be stopping by to personally apologize to me. That would be great so that we could talk about the Eagles RG situation and I could get her thoughts on who will win the job.

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RB Update

Posted: July 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 149 Comments »

With Chris Polk out of the picture, this was supposed to be the year that Matthew Tucker made a roster push. If Chip Kelly really wants this team to focus on the run game, he just might be willing to keep a 4th RB. Unfortunately Tucker won’t be an Eagle this year.

Tucker won’t be playing for anyone in 2015 with that kind of a timetable.

He wasn’t anything special, but Tucker had a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He was on the practice squad the past 2 years so he knew the offense and the Eagles obviously saw something they liked. Good luck to Tucker as he deals with the injury and tries to continue his pro career.

The Eagles have Kenjon Barner as the #4 RB right now. He played for Kelly at Oregon and has been around the league for a couple of years.

UDFA Raheem Mostert is on the roster, but seems like a longshot.

There is a report that the Eagles will add Villanova RB Kevin Monangai. We’ll find out soon enough if that is the case.

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John Lovett was the DBs coach in 2013 and 2014, but things didn’t go well and he was moved to a pro scouting role this offseason. That won’t be the case anymore.

Makes total sense. Lovett is a college guy. He tried the NFL and it just didn’t work. Lovett has had plenty of success in college football so he’s wise to go back there.

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Final Look Back – Great LBs

Posted: July 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 151 Comments »

Training Camp will be starting soon so we’ll have some actual fresh story lines to discuss. That means this is probably the last summer time piece. For PE.com, I wrote about the great Eagles LB corps of Seth Joyner, Byron Evans and William Thomas. For my money, they are one of the best LB units of all time.

I was thinking about LB interceptions the other day (because that’s the kind of stuff that floats through my brain, besides me and Megan Fox attending a Level 42 concert together of course). William Thomas is 9th in NFL history in INTs by a LB.  Seth Joyner is 19th. Willie T. had 27 picks, Seth had 24.

Go look at that list and you see tons of players from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Seth is the only player on the list whose career began in the 1980’s. Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks, Donnie Edwards and Willie T. are the guys who began their careers in the 1990’s. That should give you an idea how special they were.

And Byron Evans had 13 career picks (in 113 career games). That’s a good total for a MLB. Jeremiah Trotter and DeMeco Ryans have combined for 15 picks in 273 career games.

INTs don’t define how good a LB is, but it struck me how unique the Eagles were to have a pair of great cover LBs in Joyner and Thomas. Not good, but great. Thomas began his college career as a DB. Joyner played SS for a few games due to injury while with the Cardinals. These guys were athletic, instinctive and skilled.

Would you believe that Willie T. had more career pass breakups than Lito Sheppard?

And it wasn’t all about coverage. The trio combined for 92.5 sacks. Think about that total for a second. These are 4-3 LBs that weren’t going after the QB on every play. But they still produced big numbers.

The trio combined for 50 forced fumbles. They could knock the crap out of you.

Run defense is a team stat, but these guys were part of one of the greatest run defenses of all time. In their first 1.5 years of playing together, they allowed one 100-yard rusher.

Why is this group so overlooked?

They never won a Super Bowl (as a trio), or even came close to playing in one. And they only played together for 2.5 years. They gave us 35 glorious games and the Eagles went 25-10 in them. Joyner left in free agency following the 1993 season and Evans tore up his knee in mid-1994. One funny note…the Eagles replaced Joyner with Bill Romanowski for 1994. That’s funny because Romo might be the only player I can think of who was more intense and angrier on the field than Joyner was.

Seth Joyner should be in the Hall of Fame, or at least in the mix for a spot. His numbers make him one of the most unique LBs in NFL history. William Thomas and Byron Evans are a notch below. They were outstanding players, but not at Joyner’s level.

I love writing about these players and doing research for pieces like this. It reminds me how lucky Eagles fans were to watch the Gang Green defense from 1989-1992. What a special group.

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This is simply fantastic. Go check out the BGN story.

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