The LB corps got shuffled a bit this offseason. Jordan Hicks moved from ILB to MLB. Mychal Kendricks moved from ILB to WLB. Nigel Bradham was signed in free agency to come in and be the SAM. Najee Goode was brought back to be the key backup and the team spent a 7th rounder on Joe Walker to be the backup in the middle. The starters seem to be good. The backups are more of a question, with Goode being new to the 4-3 and Walker being a late round rookie.
Things got interesting early in the week when Bradham was arrested in Florida for assaulting a cabana boy man. Doug Pederson said Bradham isn’t going to lose his job over the incident and it sounds like Bradham was somewhat provoked in the situation rather than just being a total knucklehead. We have to wait and see how things play out, but for now it doesn’t seem the incident is going to affect Bradham’s season all that much.
That is interesting because it’s different than what we’re used to. Goode and Tavarres were mostly WLB in the spring, with Gause and Skinner at SAM. This tells you the coaches are moving the players around. That cross-trains them, but also lets the coaches see them in different roles. You never know when a player is going to shine in a different spot than what you originally anticipated.
Gause chose the Eagles because of the opportunity at linebacker and their special teams’ reputation. He already made his presence felt this week when he closed down on a pass catcher on what would have resulted in a big hit had the Eagles been in pads.
“He allows his ‘backers to fly around and cover the backs and the bigs, so I love it,” Gause said of Schwartz’s scheme. “It’s definitely similar to what I did at Rutgers. . . . I’m making sure I know every single thing, knowing what the safety is doing, where my help is. Once I know that – and I know it already – but study it, solidify it in my head, I’ll be able to teach it to you. . . . That’s what’s going to make me a great player and help me make this roster.”
The rookie linebackers met in the hotel lobby this week to discuss their responsibilities. Their workload will decrease once the veterans arrive for practice, but, unlike many rookies, they’re not buried deep on the depth chart. The Eagles lack depth at linebacker, and unless they find a veteran they like elsewhere, they’ll need to turn to these rookies in key reserve roles.
“Right now, we’re very pleased with the work that these guys have done in the offseason, what the rookies have shown these last three days, and just looking forward to putting the pads on,” Pederson said.
We know some of these guys are going to struggle and get cut. If just 1 or 2 pan out, that will help the team immensely. Walker has the best chance because he has the size and speed to play in the NFL, along with major college experience. Tavarres is the most interesting. He is a terrific athlete with big upside, but he’s never faced talent like this. Gause is the guy we all want to root for. Lacks ideal size, but smart and tough as nails. Cherry is the new guy. I think he’s a longshot, but he does fit the scheme so we’ll see how he performs.
Linebacker Myke Tavarres said he was around 225 pounds when he signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent. He has since bulked up to 240. Tavarres said that playing behind a wide-nine defense can be easy.
“What kind of makes it easy is that you have the front four, and they’re going to set up and play their gaps, and really you have a choice between one or two gaps,” he said. “Wherever the ball goes, you go to that closest gap. It’s pretty simple.”
For that reason, I believe that Mychal Kendricks will be a more effective defender playing a “downhill” style under Jim Schwartz than he was in a more “read and react” type of defense under Billy Davis.
I completely agree with Jimmy on Kendricks and the new defense. Kendricks is more of an attacker than a thinker. Keep things simple and let him use his athleticism. That puts him in the best position to succeed.
But Tavarres, who told Birds 24/7 that he is looking to model his game off of special teams stud Bryan Braman, remains cognizant of his most likely path to a roster spot: “Hard work. Dedication. Special teams.”
While those are just words, they are the right words. You want players to be confident in themselves, but also realistic about their path to staying in the NFL. Most young LBs have to start out by being role players and STers. That’s especially true for UDFAs. Tavarres has the right mindset for trying to make the Eagles.
It would be great if the Eagles had more proven depth at LB, but that’s just not the case. If there is a year to play the young guys to see what they can do, this is it. We don’t see this Eagles team headed for the Super Bowl so give the young LBs a chance to show what they can do. After all, we are talking about backup spots. You need backups to be cheap, young and good on STs. That’s just part of roster building. We’ll find out if the Eagles have the right young LBs or if the group needs a lot more new blood in the coming year.
This injury isn’t that big of a deal, but it is a reminder that the Eagles aren’t deep at RB and they need one of the young guys to step up. That could be Kenjon Barner or Wendell Smallwood. I guess Byron Marshall and Cedric O’Neal shouldn’t be counted out, although they fall more into the longshot category.
Some might see this as reason to panic and want the Eagles to go add a veteran. We aren’t at that point. If there was a terrific RB on the market, you’d go get him. That’s just not the case. The Eagles would be smart to let the young guys show what they can do for a couple of weeks. If Mathews isn’t healthy and/or the young guys aren’t impressing at that point, you can go get a veteran RB.
There is another consideration. Some young RBs will step up somewhere. That could make a veteran or two on other teams suddenly available for a cheap price. If the Eagles wait, there could be better options on the market.
On the third and final day of the “rookie portion” of training camp, the few veterans in attendance got the day off. That would mean players like Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, and Nolan Carroll, for example. And so, with the vets on the shelf, Carson Wentz got almost all the reps at quarterback today.
There were so few players practicing this morning, in fact, that fourth quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson played quarterback, running back and tight end. On one series, he made a catch down the seam, and then had to run back to the huddle, call a play, and run the next set of reps as the quarterback.
I wonder if Chip Kelly would read this and think “Now that’s a way to really get players more reps.”
• Isaac Seumalo has gotten work both at LG and C. Yesterday in team drills, an errant shotgun snap from Seumalo got past Wentz. Today he had another one during the individual periods.
Grymes has played S and CB. He has CFL experience, which I’m sure makes the rookie days of Training Camp easier to deal with. It will be interesting to see if Grymes can continue to play well.
Seumalo has gotten reps at C and G. I think the Eagles are just moving guys around. I don’t think this is a hint that the team wants him in the middle this year. They want Seumalo to challenge for the LG spot. Down the road, Seumalo could move inside.
The Eagles signed WR David Watford. The 6-2, 210 Watford played QB in college, but has the size and athleticism to be a WR prospect. Here are his Pro Day numbers.
The young WRs have not played well this week. This isn’t an overly talented group, but it would be nice if at least one was standing out as a player to watch. Veterans reported on Wednesday. Let’s hope those receivers play better.
Doug Pederson did admit the Eagles had some interest in Anquan Boldin. The Eagles weren’t after him enough to make an aggressive move. The interest was a bit more passive. Still, that tells you the team has some questions about the WR corps. It will be interesting to see if the news about Boldin gets the attention of Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor. Neither guy stood out in spring to the media who attended practices. They need to shine in practice in the coming weeks to make the team feel more comfortable about that position. If not, the Eagles will be more aggressive about going after other veterans still on the market.
The first couple of days of Training Camp are in the books. Nothing substantial has happened. You could almost say it has been boring, but in a way that’s a good thing. As Dave Spadaro joked on PE.com, no one has gotten hurt and no one has won a starting job. Those are the kinds of things that really get our attention at this time of the year. With only rookies and select vets practicing, you shouldn’t expect anything too noteworthy.
Doug Pederson spoke to the media yesterday. He didn’t say anything that really jumped out at me. He did have to once again explain that Sam Bradford is the starter, Chase Daniel is the backup and Carson Wentz will be #3. I’m not sure why that is such rocket science. I know some in the media are looking for a story, but save a question like that for a few weeks from now when Wentz lights it up in a preseason game or one of the QBs has a very good/bad practice.
Jim Schwartz spoke today. PE.com has the video. There isn’t any groundbreaking news, but I love hearing Schwartz talk to the media. He talked a lot about the young corners and the competition that will be going on there. Aside from Leodis McKelvin, things are wide open. That’s bad because it means the Eagles don’t have quality, proven starters in place. At the same time, the Eagles do have a lot of young guys battling for the other starting spot and the Nickel job. There should be good competition between Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills and JaCorey Shepherd, among others. Schwartz is excited to see how the guys compete with each other on a daily basis.
One of the things I liked most from the Schwartz talk was the fact he’s in no rush to get everything done. There is a long time between now and the season opener. Players aren’t supposed to know the scheme inside-out right now. They aren’t supposed to be perfect on the field. It takes time and repetitions for players to learn and grow. Don’t rush the process. Fans want to know who looks good right now. Who is on the roster bubble? Do we have a depth chart yet? Schwartz is telling you to relax and let the coaches and players go to work.
Think about Jalen Mills vs Eric Rowe. Mills had a strong spring and is playing well so far in camp. That’s great and everyone is excited about his potential. At the same time, Rowe is the guy with 5 NFL starts under his belt. He has broken up 5 passes and picked one off. He’s gone against great NFL receivers. Mills hasn’t even taken part in a full-contact practice, but we are so ready to praise Mills and bury Rowe. Right now Mills looks better, but let’s give this time to play out. Rowe is a big, strong, physical player. The contact setting in Training Camp should help his game. Mills has to show he can handle that side of things. And tackle.
Shepherd isn’t settling for the nickel corner role. He wants to start on the outside and said that he has as good a chance as any of the competitors.
“Hell, yeah. It’s open, baby,” Shepherd said. “No job is taken yet, and that’s the way I’m going to attack it. Regardless of how many [defensive backs] we have in the room, I know I’m going for a starting spot.”
Being a CB means being confident (sometimes delusional even) and playing with a lot of attitude. Shepherd has the right attitude. Soon enough we’ll see if he has the skills to push for a starting job or key role on the defense.
— Jim Schwartz is a must-follow at practice. He walks with a cocky arrogance, but if I’m the head coach I want my defensive coordinator to bring that kind of attitude to the more emotional side of the ball. Schwartz isn’t shy about letting the players know exactly how he feels about their performance. “You gonna cover anyone today?” he barked at what seemed like the entire unit during an early drill. “Get your heads out your [posteriors],” he yelled a little later. Rookie linebacker Joe Walker responded to the rhetoric and had tight coverage on a pass thrown underneath. “Now that’s more like it,” Schwartz said.
Rookie Alex McCalister said that he weighed 232 pounds when he first came to the Eagles. That’s about as skinny as I’ve ever seen a defensive end, especially one that is 6-foot-6. But McCalister, who said his goal is play at 255-260 pounds, noted that he was already up to 246 pounds.
McCalister has excellent potential, but it is critical that he can get above 250 and maintain that weight. If he was shorter and had some thickness, he could get away with playing at 246. But he’s 6-6. That’s a long frame. He’s got to have some meat on his bones and better strength. It is encouraging that he’s headed in the right direction.
Today, in his first practice of training camp, Bradford took a snap from under center, tripped over one of his offensive linemen’s feet, regained his balance, turned his body, and fired a completion to the sideline. Having observed him for a full training camp in 2015, I do not think that is a play he would have made a year ago.
I believe he’ll get off to a better start to the season than he did a year ago, although, obviously, that is not at all a high bar.
That was from Monday. Here is praise from Tuesday’s practice.
Sleeves with a perfect throw down the sideline to Paul Turner over JaCorey Shepherd. Dropped it in the bucket.
That makes it sound like the team was mildly curious, but not ready to take the next step. I think Pederson and Howie Roseman are smart enough to know this isn’t a title contender. They need to give the young players a chance. If they fail, then go see which veteran players are on the street. I love Boldin, but it is more important to the future of the team to see how the young receivers perform.
The offseason breaks down into parts. You have the Senior Bowl in January. Then the Combine in February. March is when free agency kicks off and the team can start making pro moves. Then you have the draft in late April. That finalizes the roster for the most part and leads into the OTAs and Minicamp, which take place in May and early June.
The Eagles have come through all of that pretty well this year. People are getting more comfortable with Doug Pederson as the head coach. Everyone loves Jim Schwartz as the new defensive coordinator. Howie Roseman seemed to have a brilliant offseason, keeping the right players, getting value for unwanted players and then putting together what looks like a strong draft class. The team is healthy. There are no major controversies right now. Everyone is signed. All in all, life seems pretty good.
The next step is Training Camp, which gets underway today. This is the first real football of the offseason. Players will put on full pads and there will be actual blocking and hitting. There won’t be a ton of live tackling because of the fear of injuries, but the non-contact OTAs will be a distant memory. Pederson has said that he believes in the value of physical practices. That’s something Andy Reid did a lot when he was here. Chip Kelly, not so much.
The roster stands at 90 players after some weekend additions.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson is purely a camp body. Cherry could be practice squad material if he plays well enough, but don’t count on that. Perry has the best shot at seriously challenging for a roster spot. He has some experience and some potential, plus the Eagles aren’t deep at Safety.
The happiest guy is probably Isaac Seumalo, the rookie from Oregon State. He missed most of spring practice because of the NFL/NCAA rule about graduation. That is all behind him now and Seumalo has some catching up to do. He has a legitimate shot to start at left guard so every rep and every practice is huge for him.
DT Aziz Shittu almost missed the spring due to that rule. He isn’t going to challenge for a starting role, but the pressure is on him. He has a chance to win a roster spot. The Eagles loaded up with UDFA players at DT and fellow rookie Destiny Vaeao is already at the head of the pack. Shittu can’t afford a lot of mistakes if he wants to really push for a job. Seumalo is going to make the team. The pressure for him is trying to start. Shittu is battling for a way to pay his bills.
The headliner is obviously QB Carson Wentz. He was up and down in the spring, as you would expect. He should be more comfortable with the playbook now and should also have a better feel for how pro practices go. It will be interesting to see how he plays this summer. I think he would have to be lights out to change Pederson’s mind about the QB plan.
Rookie Joe Walker is another player under some pressure. Right now, he’s the backup MLB. Walker was up and down in the spring. His head was really swimming, as Jim Schwartz put it. Walker needs to take a big step forward or the Eagles might need to place a call to Stephen Tulloch.
I’m excited to see what CB JaCorey Shepard does this year. He looked terrific last spring and summer, but then tore up his knee. If his knee is all the way back and he plays well, Shepard could challenge to be the slot corner.
Can rookie Jalen Mills continue to play at a high level? If so, he might push for a starting job. He impressed the heck out of everyone in the spring. It would be great to see him continue playing at that level. Or even better.
Sam Bradford is healthy and ready to go. He is a huge mystery. Do you get the guy who struggled early last year or the one who played so much better down the stretch?
Travis Long might have sought advice from Bradford on how to deal with consecutive ACL injuries. Long played OLB the last 2 summers and showed potential before unfortunately tearing up his knees. He is back once again. The Eagles listed him at DE during the spring, but now list him as a LB. At 6-4, 255 he does have the size you might want in a SAM. Whether he succeeds or fails, I hope Long stays healthy. I would hate to see a young man chasing his dream and never getting to know if he’s good enough.
Dillon Gordon is officially making the move from TE to OG. That’s going to be a huge challenge for him. He wasn’t exactly a dominant blocker as a TE.
Byron Marshall played WR and RB at Oregon, but will be a RB in the NFL. He is an undrafted player with a real chance to make the team.
One of the players I’m most curious about is Myke Tavarres. He played some DE in college, but will play OLB for the Eagles. He was incredibly violent and dominant in college. I’m fascinated to see how he handles the adjustment to the NFL. He won’t be the toughest guy or best athlete on the field anymore.
Even when he was in community college, you could tell Eagles UDFA Myke Tavarres was a Jim Schwartz kind of guy. pic.twitter.com/1Ps7hGxWFP
The thought behind the 2004 Super Bowl team, at its most basic, is that you had a foundation of Donovan, Dawk and Westy and then the Eagles added TO and the Freak to put that team over the top. While that is true, the 2004 Eagles were also strong at the bottom of the roster. Tom Modrak, Tom Heckert, Mike McCartney and others had found contributors all over the place and they helped the team in a major way.
Think about the UDFAs that started or were key role players: Quintin Mikell, Artis Hicks, Rod Hood, Sam Rayburn, Reno Mahe, and Greg Lewis. There were players taken off the NFL scrap heap. Darwin Walker was a 3rd round pick by the Cardinals, but they cut him after one year and one game. He looked like a major bust. The Eagles scooped him up and developed him into a solid DT. David Akers was with the Falcons, Panthers, Skins and Berlin Thunder before landing with the Eagles and becoming a star kicker. Hank Fraley signed with the Steelers as a UDFA, but got cut and the Eagles signed him. He sat for the 2000 season and then started from 2001-2005. Dirk Johnson (aka Dirk Diggler) was the punter for that team. He had one NFL punt under his belt when the Eagles signed him. LB Keith Adams was a 7th round pick by Dallas that got cut early in his rookie year. He came over to the Eagles and was a good STer and even starting WLB.
Why bring this up?
The Eagles have made small moves in recent days.
The Eagles are signing former Alabama safety Nick Perry, per source. He spent last year on the Ravens' practice squad
The Eagles recently cut DT Derrick Lott and WR Jonathan Krause. They are tinkering with the bottom of the roster. None of this is a big deal by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time, you never know when the personnel department is going to find a player that will develop into a solid contributor (or even better). No one was excited when the Eagles signed Akers or Fraley. They were “we’ll see” kind of moves.
One interesting note about these two potential signings is that both players share connections to Philadelphia’s new vice president player of personnel Joe Douglas. Douglas originally signed Cherry to the Bears before getting hired by the Eagles. As for Perry, former Ravens scout and current Eagles assistant direct of player personnel Andy Weidl is familiar with him. These potential signings are minor, but we’re already seeing the influence of Philadelphia’s new player personnel executives.
Douglas did a terrific job with the Ravens of finding UDFAs and building up the bottom of the roster. With the Eagles trading so many draft picks away, it is crucial that the team find talent in other areas.
Back to the players.
Cherry is here to add depth at MLB. He is just over 6-1 and 237 pounds. Cherry runs well, but lacks top agility. You can see that in his highlights.
Put a play in front of him and Cherry will attack it. He has good straight-line speed. Good burst. He has stiff hips, though, and that will keep him from making plays sideline to sideline. Cherry could be a good STer. I like the signing because this is a year where the Eagles need to find and develop young talent. The Wide 9 tries to funnel things to the middle. Cherry can play between the tackles so he’s a good fit for this scheme. We’ll see how he does soon enough.
Defensive back Nick Perry (6-0 3/4, 201) ran the 40 in 4.62 and 4.65 seconds. He really looked good in the workout, and could go as early as the sixth or seventh round of the draft, or be a priority free-agent pickup for a team following the draft.
Good combination of size and speed. Perry impressed last spring and summer in Baltimore so you wonder why he got cut. Maybe he got complacent and didn’t make the kind of progress they were expecting.
Perry is another depth addition. The Eagles have a terrific pair of starting Safeties. Blake Countess looks like he could be a good backup. Chris Maragos is more of a STer than a DB. Ed Reynolds faces an uphill challenge. He is an inconsistent tackler in a scheme that requires DBs to be very good tacklers. There is room for another Safety to add to the mix.
The Eagles will keep cycling players in and out, looking for those hidden gems that can help put a team over the top. Hitting on the 1st round picks and the big free agent signings is still the key to building a great team, but don’t overlook the value of the guys who come from other places. If you have the right personnel guys doing the looking and a good coaching staff to develop those players, they can be a big help.
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