Minicamp is in the Books

Posted: June 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 215 Comments »

The Eagles concluded a mandatory minicamp on Thursday and will be off for about the next 6 weeks. That’s just enough time for Sam Bradford to come all the way back from his ACL tear, Marcus Smith to remember he’s a former 1st round pick with big potential and the Eagles to build a RG from body parts found in local graveyards (after midnight, of course).

Chip Kelly said in his PC that there aren’t any conclusions to be found at this time of the year. He’s wrong, dead wrong. I know exactly what will happen with this team, but I’ll keep those answers to myself. If I tell you what’s going to happen, you’ll just get bored (until Matt Tobin turns into the TD machine, that is).

Let’s talk about some players and situations.

OG – Allen Barbre is the LG. The RG spot is wide open. Tobin, Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly are the 3 primary candidate, but Chip also mentioned Kevin Graf this week. Graf has the size and physicality to play inside. His limited athleticism is less of an issue in there.

The Eagles hope to be choosing the player who looks the best. It is possible they’ll have to settle for the player who sucks the least.

QB – Sam Bradford gets healthier each week. He’s throwing the ball well and definitely looks the part of a starting QB. Mark Sanchez has moments when he looks like a good starting QB. The issue for him is consistency, both from game to game and within games. Sanchez really wants to push Bradford for the starting job. Matt Barkley is the pleasant surprise at QB. I thought he was as good as gone, but Barkley has taken a big step forward. Maybe the light finally went on for him. Tim Tebow? He continues to be a work in progress. Tebow needs to look a lot better in Training Camp to seriously challenge for a roster spot.

WR – Jordan Matthews doesn’t sound at all like a guy who will have a sophomore slump. He’s working as hard as ever. Nelson Agholor continues to impress everyone who goes to practice. He shows speed and good receiver skills. Josh Huff looks improved. The question with him is how good he’ll be. Key role player? Starter? We’ve heard a lot of good things about Miles Austin, both as a player and mentor. A darkhorse to watch…Seyi Ajirotutu. Jimmy Bama has mentioned him a few times and a couple of other writers have as well (their lack of Pulitzers keeps me from mentioning names).

ILB – This spot is so deep that Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho began taking a lot of reps with the OLBs. Kiko Alonso isn’t showing any signs of being a player on the mend from an ACL tear. Mychal Kendricks went from a player who was sure to be traded to one who had a good spring and is on track to start again. DeMeco Ryans is ahead of schedule in his injury comeback. We heard very little about rookie Jordan Hicks, but I think that is strictly because most eyes were on the big 3. Najee Goode has made a few plays in practice. He went from being the #3 guy to someone fighting for a roster spot. He will battle for his job.

DB – So far, so good for Byron Maxwell, the Eagles highly paid savior at CB. For once, it seems like money well spent. Nolan Carroll is the other starter for now, although that is in very light pencil. Rookie Eric Rowe and JaCorey Shepherd are going to fight for that job. Brandon Boykin has been told he will have a shot at the job. We’ll see about that.

Walter Thurmond moved from CB to FS and seems to be fitting in well. He looks to be the starter opposite of Malcolm Jenkins. Jerome Couplin has gotten some reps with the starters and Chip Kelly said some good things about him this week. Ed Reynolds needs to step up in a big way if he’s going to win a roster spot, let alone a starting job. Earl Wolff has yet to come back from his injury. There is a disconnect between him and the coaching staff. Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski are in Year 2 of the scheme and that could help them push for time on defense. I think of Maragos as purely a STer. I need to see Prosinski this summer before making any judgments with him.

Jaylen Watkins was going to be a S and then got moved back to CB. I would think they want him at S with Wolff out, but the Eagles put him at CB. Then he did play some at S this week. The Eagles like versatile players, but you have to wonder if all that change hurts Watkins ability to develop.

Many expected Rowe to end up playing S for the Eagles, but they’re adamant about him playing CB for now. They think he can be a star on the outside. I think he’s an ideal fit for this scheme at CB so I’d leave him there. EJ Biggers is another guy that can play inside or outside. We haven’t heard much about him recently. I think he is still working at CB.

Things are unsettled at DB, but I like the depth and the talent of the overall group. There are going to be some growing pains as this group gets used to each other, but there is more potential here than with the secondaries of recent years.

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Hot Topic: #3 OLB

Posted: June 18th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 257 Comments »

Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are both coming off career years. They will be the starting OLBs for the Eagles and expectations for them are pretty high. With Graham taking over a starting role this year, that leaves a big opening for the #3 OLB spot.

This is a great opportunity for Marcus Smith, last year’s fairly invisible 1st round pick. If he can win the #3 job for now, that would help the team and slowly get fans on his side. There is no worse role in sports than being the object of the scorn of disappointed Eagles fans. Smith got off to a slow start this spring due to a nagging injury, but is now back on the field. Sheil Kapadia talked about him.

11:51 a.m. – I have joked before about being the lone passenger on the Marcus Smith bandwagon, but I swear that watching him move in practice, he looks like an NFL player. He’s long, athletic, and effort doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Maybe after being ping-ponged from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, it was the mental part that tripped him up last season. We’ll see if that’s the case once the pads come on.

12:58 – Smith comes off the edge to “sack” Barkley. C’mon, I told you, there’s still room on the bandwagon. Anyone? Anyone??

Smith has added about 15 pounds this year. He has all the physical tools necessary to be a good starting OLB in the 3-4. He just has to put everything together. Sheil is hopeful with Smith. So am I. But Chip Kelly isn’t going to wait forever. Smith needs to show serious progress this year.

Are the Eagles optimistic about Smith?

The news that Vinny Curry is now taking some reps at OLB would lead me to believe otherwise. The Eagles know you need 3 OLBs to eat up all the snaps that the defense will play. And that’s if everyone stays healthy. You can’t count on Smith turning into a key OLB. The Eagles want it to happen. They hope it happens. But they are clearly keeping their options open.

Curry is about 280 pounds so it isn’t likely he’ll make the full-time move to OLB, but I do like this move. He is a terrific pass rusher and I’m for getting him more snaps. Using him in the base as a 3-4 DE isn’t optimizing his skills. He has gotten much better at that and is now a good backup, but Curry is at his best in passing situations when he can attack.

Putting him at OLB gives him another chance to attack up the field. He does have some coverage responsibilities there, but the Eagles can limit those when he’s on the field. Curry is studying Barwin and asking him lots of questions as he tries to pick up the subtleties of the position.

Beyond those two, the Eagles have Travis Long and Bryan Braman as OLBs. Braman is mainly a STs demon, but he has good quickness off the edge and could develop into a situational pass rusher. Long is a player the Eagles had high hopes for last year. He tore his ACL in the preseason finale and is on the way back. Domo just posted a good piece on him.

Brad Jones and Emmanuel Acho both came to the Eagles as ILBs, but are getting looks on the outside. Jones has started on the outside in the past. Acho played OLB in the 4-3 in college and has some pass rush ability. Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo is a UDFA with some pass rush ability.

Long is the most interesting guy because of his size and youth. The Eagles list him at 6-4, 255 and he’s just 23 years old. He will play on STs and last summer got some reps at ILB. He is the kind of hard-working, versatile guy you want on the bench. I don’t think he has the burst to ever be a starting OLB in the 3-4, but he could be a valuable role player. Effort will never be a question and he is a tough, physical defender.

The ACL injury doesn’t seem to be slowing Long down this spring. He’s healthy and just got permission to practice without the brace. Smith can benefit from getting pushed by guys like Long, Braman, Jones and Acho. Smith is far more talented than any of them, but he needs to produce results. The other guys are more of the overachiever types. Hopefully being around them will bring out the best in Smith.

The Eagles need someone to step forward and claim the #3 OLB spot.

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Concluding the Mathis Affair

Posted: June 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 309 Comments »

Chip Kelly spoke. Evan Mathis spoke. And confusion remained.

Kelly held a press conference prior to minicamp. The hot topic was the release of Evan Mathis. Kelly was peppered with questions and the key takeaway was that the Eagles released Mathis after his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, had made several requests for the release.

Mathis doesn’t exactly agree. Les Bowen has some details.

Asked about this, Mathis said any release request would have occurred “no time recently” — meaning he might have welcomed being released when free agency was in full swing, when teams had cap room and hadn’t drafted yet, but he wasn’t really looking to be released in June.

“If he was so willing to oblige my release, why didn’t he sign or draft any OL?” Mathis asked, via text.

And

On Mathis, who has been unhappy with his contract the past two offseasons, Kelly was asked why the Eagles didn’t just demand that Mathis honor the contract he signed in 2012, which would have paid him $5.5 million this season and $6 million next season. “It wasn’t addressed to us that that was going to happen,” Kelly said. Asked if he thought Mathis would have reported for training camp, Kelly said, ‘I don’t know.”

“He could have asked,” Mathis texted, when those comments were relayed to him. Mathis later said he would have reported and honored his contract.

“They obviously wanted a new contract, we weren’t going to give them a new contract, they asked for release,” Kelly said.

Rosenhaus said he will no longer comment on anything involving Mathis and the Eagles.

Mathis sure sounds like he was ready to report and play, even under the existing contract.

This boils down to a couple of things. The most obvious point is that Eagles don’t want the distraction of having Mathis around. The point that is harder to comprehend is that the Eagles don’t seem to think of Mathis as being all that good of a player anymore.

Tim McManus got some good quotes from Jason Kelce about the first point.

“Last year there was some under-the-radar talks about it, stuff that was going on in the media, but nothing really concrete and he never really let it take place in front of the team or anything like that so it wasn’t a distraction,” said Kelce. “At this point obviously he would have missed all of OTAs. It was a much bigger deal throughout the season at this point.”

“The most important thing that we’re trying to establish here — that I think is established — is a culture,” added Kelce. “It’s a workplace where everybody is in this together, everybody is in this with one another. People look at this like it’s voluntary and that’s fine, but the fact of the matter is that he was one out of 90 guys that wasn’t here so that’s clearly not a part of the team. Nobody has anything personal against Evan — I still consider him one of my best friends I’ve ever had throughout my life, actually — but this is just the nature of the business, the nature of what we’re trying to build here.”

“We can talk of woulda, couldas if he would have  came back and so forth, but the fact of the matter is I think the coaches and the offensive line, I think that everybody feels that we have the players to be successful up front, and they didn’t want the distraction,” said Kelce. “That’s what I’m assuming.”

Chip Kelly really does have his players thinking the way he wants. This team is focused on continually getting better. Even if Mathis didn’t work to make this a distraction, it would have been from time to time. Kelly clearly doesn’t want to deal with something like that if he can avoid it.

As to Mathis and his level of play…the vibe you get from Kelly and Jason Peters and some others is that they think Allen Barbre can step in and play as well or almost as well as Mathis. Kelly hasn’t said anything publicly to rip on Mathis, but he’s hinted at it.

Kelly has talked several times about how the Eagles had no offers for Mathis. Did Kelly say that for the heck of it or was he hinting that other teams didn’t see Mathis as someone worth trading for? Even PFF, who worships Mathis, shows him on the decline.

And this from Doug Farrar of SI.

Seems like the Eagles agree that Mathis has those issues, but they would disagree that he is still a “really good player”.

I find it hard to believe that if the Eagles truly thought he was one of the best OGs in football that they would just cut him. Mathis at $5.5M would be a good deal for a top OG.

This isn’t my attempt to rip a former Eagle. I’m a fan of Mathis and hope he has a great year for his new team. I’m just trying to make sense of the Eagles actions. The comments from Kelly and the players don’t paint the most flattering picture. No one has said Mathis is a bad player or anything close to that. Clearly he is still a good player. But it seems like those around the team don’t see him as one of the best OGs in the league anymore.

Are the Eagles delusional for thinking Barbre can play at the same level? That’s a fair question. I haven’t seen enough of him to have a strong opinion of how good Barbre can be at LG. The team (players and coaches) seems to be completely confident in him.

I loved watching Mathis play in the last 4 years. I prefer athletic OGs so he was my type of blocker. That said, the team did go 5-2 without him starting last year. I know there are a lot of factors in that record, but the point is that he wasn’t irreplaceable. LT, RT and C remain the key positions on the OL.

I am going to miss having Mathis as part of the Eagles. Time will tell if Chip Kelly and his teammates end up feeling the same way.

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Minicamp Begins

Posted: June 16th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 309 Comments »

The OTAs are voluntary. Today, manadatory minicamp begins. With Evan Mathis gone, there are no more overly dramatic situations to obsess on. As far as I know, everyone will be there.

Chip Kelly will speak at 11am.

* How much will Sam Bradford do? His workload increased from Week 1 to Week 2. Will he do even more this week or will the Eagles keep it slow and steady?

* Who will line up at RG? Matt Tobin might be the front-runner, but Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly are very much in the mix.

* Are we going to get to see Marcus Smith as a full go? The 2nd year LB needs to get going. The Eagles have an opening at the #3 OLB spot. Smith can win that job, but it won’t be given to him.

* Will Jaylen Watkins continue to play CB? With Earl Wolff missing time at S, I’m surprised Watkins isn’t working there.

There are a ton of other questions I’ve got, but these are the key ones. Let’s hope everyone shows up and stays healthy.

* * * * *

Your NSFW La’el Collins headline of the day.

Go read that if you want. Pass on it if you don’t. Combine that with the pic below and I’m starting to understand why the Eagles weren’t all that interested in Collins.

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OTAs Takeaways

Posted: June 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 210 Comments »

With a couple of weeks of practices in the books, I thought this might be a good time to talk about some of the things we’ve heard about the team. These are non-contact practices and the NFLPA limits what the players can do even beyond that, but you can still see the players in action so there are some general takeaways.

I put my thoughts together in this week’s PE.com column.

This is the time of year to feel good about your team. Optimism is high for just about everyone.

Due to Chip Kelly’s crazy moves this offseason it is understandable that some of you are nervous about the Eagles. I completely get that. I trust Chip. That doesn’t mean I don’t question the moves, but it does mean that I’ve got faith in his plan.

Chip wouldn’t blindly make these moves. He believes in them. You and I won’t suffer any consequences if this team goes 4-12. Chip’s reputation will be tarnished and his job status would be compromised. It would affect him forever. I don’t think he would have made these moves and risk all of that if he felt he couldn’t make them work. You can make the argument that he can just run back to college and get a huge deal there, but his legacy as a coaching genius would be tarnished. Chip is highly competitive. He doesn’t want to be Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier, college gurus who failed in the NFL.

Me having faith in Chip and him having faith in his ideas doesn’t mean anything. Sam Bradford could tear his ACL again. The Eagles could have the worst pair of OGs in the league. Walter Thurmond could make Nate Allen look like Brian Dawkins.

While my faith doesn’t guarantee anything, it does help me to see the potential of the moves. Bradford could finally show the talent that got him drafted #1 overall. We could find out that Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin are solid OGs in a run-heavy offense. Thurmond could find a niche as a playmaking Safety.

I can’t wait to see how Chip’s grand experiment turns out. It won’t shock me if this team goes 12-4 or 8-8. I think there is too much talent for 4-12, unless the team has a mixture of bad luck and lots of injuries. I see the upside in the moves Chip made, but I’m also realistic enough to know that some will fail.

The first test is 2015. Can this team win? Can this team have postseason success? Beyond that, who knows? These days the NFL definitely means “not for long”. 2 years ago the Niners were arguably the best organization in football and their roster was loaded with talent. Now they are a franchise in disarray. What you know changes in a friggin’ hurry.

For now, I feel good about the Eagles. I don’t see this as a Super Bowl front-runner, but I do see a playoff team. Of course, some Titans and Jags fans are saying the same thing. The difference is they’re delusional, while I’m completely rational and level-headed. Right?

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