Minicamp Begins

Posted: June 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 115 Comments »

Tuesday was the first day of a 3-day minicamp for the Eagles. Since no one got hurt, it was incredibly successful. That’s kind of the way you judge practices this time of year. Let’s check out some notes from the beat writers.

First up is Jimmy Bama with a couple of small nuggets.

• Josh Andrews had a very rough day as the second-team center. By my count, he had at least three bad shotgun snaps. Credit Chase Daniel on one of the snaps for making a nice play. The ball was snapped over Daniel’s head, but he was able to grab it on the run, sprint outside the tackle box, and throw it away. Heady play.

• Tight end Chris Pantale has gotten a lot of reps at fullback. Just something to file away.

Andrews earned a spot last year, but is facing tougher competition this time around. He needs a strong showing in Training Camp to remain on the team. Andrews isn’t so gifted in other areas that he can afford errant snaps.

Doug Pederson mentioned Pantale as a Fullback the other day. The Eagles don’t need a FB for the base offense. Pederson would like to have someone for that role, but the guy will also need to contribute at another spot. Most importantly, the player will need to be a standout on STs. Pantale won’t get to prove his worth on STs until the preseason games. Until then, he needs to play well at FB and TE. He is 6-5, 254 and would be a huge FB.

Mr. Bama also wrote a bit on Carson Wentz.

• One thing that has been clear in media-attended practices so far is that Wentz takes far more shots down the field than the other two quarterbacks. It’s not even close. He has a big arm, and he likes to let it rip. There’s good and bad in that. On the one hand, that’s going to lead to a higher percentage of incomplete passes and picks. On the other hand, you’re going to get more big plays, and pass interference penalties. #Analysis.

Anyway, the point is, he doesn’t seem to GAF, which is a quality I admire in a quarterback, within reason. It’s certainly better than watching the quarterback throw short of sticks on third down all game.

• On one deep throw, Wentz threw his worst pass of the offseason, or at least the worst one that I’ve seen. It was a play action waggle to the right side, and Wentz threw deep all the way back across the field to the left side. It was a wounded duck that hung in the air for a while, and was easily picked off by Chris Maragos.

• On another deep ball, Wentz dropped one in the bucket to Hunter Sharp. Well-placed deep throw.

• Wentz seems to have the improvisation gene. During OTAs, we noted a play in which Wentz nearly tripped and fell, but made something out of a bad situation:

Wentz’s highlight of the day was a play in which the pass rush was collapsing on him. While climbing the pocket, he tripped on a lineman’s foot, and started to fall. While falling to the ground, he was able to turn his body, and still complete a throw with enough power to get to the sideline. Carson Wentz might throw harder while falling to the ground than Matt Barkley with a full head of steam.

Today, he fielded a low snap off the ground, quickly popped up, and hit Paul Turner over the middle.

• Overall, it was an up and down day for Wentz. In case you missed it, we noted earlier that Wentz will likely get as many reps as Bradford all the way up until the third preseason game.

Wentz continues to be up and down, which means he is normal for a rookie QB. He does seems to have regular moments where he looks special. That’s what you want to see from a highly drafted player. You never expect a rookie QB to look great, but you do want to see moments of greatness. That tells you the talent is real. It is up to him and the coaches to develop that talent.

It is interesting that Wentz is throwing downfield a lot. I don’t recall that with other young Eagles QBs. I tend to think it was the opposite. When in doubt, dump the ball to a RB or TE and get 3 yards. NDSU didn’t throw a ton of passes. They tended to make them count when they did throw. Wentz averaged 8.4 yards per attempt for his career, which is a good figure. Matt Barkley was down at 7.9.

I’m really excited to see how Wentz will look in August.

*****

Now for Jeff McLane’s take on practice.

— Bradford had what appeared to be a strong practice. He didn’t take many deep shots, but his short-to-intermediate throws were mostly on target. First the good: Bradford connected with Rueben Randle on a comeback route; he led Darren Sproles on a wheel route; he hit Trey Burton over the middle; he hooked up with Jordan Matthews on a seam route out of the slot; he tossed a beauty to Zach Ertz downfield; and he dropped a deep ball into the bucket of Josh Huff (who beat Leodis McKelvin) for a long touchdown. The bad (what little there was): Bradford threw high and wide of Nelson Agholor, who got caught in coverage; he didn’t read a Malcolm Jenkins blitz, in which he would have gotten decked had he not been off limits; he threw too high of Ertz on a quick “out” that glanced off one of the tight end’s hands.

It is encouraging to read about Bradford playing well. A lot of people are very down on the Eagles offense heading into this season. If Bradford can play like he did late last year, I think the group can surprise a few people. The OL will be better. WR should be better. RB could be, if Ryan Mathews can stay healthy. I certainly get the hesitation to think of the Eagles offense as some unit to be feared. You just don’t see the weapons. But Bradord, Zach Ertz, the Matthews brothers and an improved OL could be better than people think.

— Jordan Hicks (quadriceps spasm) was limited, but he did take part in some team drills. He said the injury came as a result of rehabbing on his shoulder and not being ready for the workload. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (ankle) and JaCorey Shepherd (knee) were still limited. Randle returned after missing two weeks because of gall bladder surgery. Pederson praised Randle (I’ll have more on the former Giants receiver in my newspaper column). Defensive tackle Beau Allen is still being held out of team drills for some unknown reason. Kendricks left drills briefly after apparently dinging his shoulder, but he returned.

Good injury update.

— Matthews hasn’t dropped a pass as far as I can tell during the open practices. He made a few great grabs on Tuesday – catching one ball thrown behind him and high-pointing another. … Huff had another drop. The deep ball wasn’t perfectly placed, but it hit him in the hands and he couldn’t hold on. … Eric Rowe caught an earful from defensive backs coach Cory Undlin after he missed an assignment. He later got beat on a pass underneath – he was playing way too soft – and got yanked. I’m not sure where Rowe stands as he enters his second season. One of the cornerback spots should be his to lose, but he apparently hasn’t made a strong case yet. He could just be going through some growing pains as he learns a new defense.

Jordan Matthews continues to impress. He will be the key to the passing game. Matthews isn’t an explosive receiver, but he still has big value as he keeps the chains moving. Agholor, Huff, Randle and Givens can stretch the defense and have more playmaking ability.

It doesn’t sound like Huff has stood out this spring. This is a critical year for him, after two disappointing seasons.

Rowe is still learning how to play CB. He was there for most of his Senior season at Utah and then last year with the Eagles. He’s played off a lot and is now adjusting to a system that prefers him to play tight and be aggressive with receivers. There will be ups and downs, but he’s talented and smart so I would expect the light to go on at some point this summer.

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Can’t talk practice notes without the great Tim McManus.

2:23 — Team drills start up and it’s Mike Martin, not Cox, in at tackle with the first team. Jordan Hicks is out there, though, after being limited of late with what Pederson described as quad spasms.

It’s way early, but more times than not the starting corner tandem seems to be Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. That’s the case again today, with Brooks moving inside in nickel situations while Eric Rowe mans the outside.

The only reason DT Mike Martin is with the starters is that Fletcher Cox is being brought along slowly. Still, it is interesting that Martin is on the field with the starters. Taylor Hart is still adjusting to playing DT. The rookies are adjusting to the NFL. Martin got praised by some offensive linemen recently so he’s impressing the guys he’s going against every day. That’s a good sign.

With Carroll and Shepherd limited, it isn’t all that shocking that Brooks is still on the field a lot. If he stays out there when those guys are completely healthy, then we’ve got a good story on him or a couple of bad ones on them.

But this is no Kelly practice. Where everything was in hyper-drive under the previous regime, here the pace is slower which in turn makes the atmosphere a bit more relaxed. Here, Pederson takes a moment from watching team drills to mingle with the offensive line. He’s jumping up and down for reasons unknown but whatever is being said/done has brought a smile to Jason Peters‘ face and started a conversation among the group. In the next moment, he goes over to Josh Huff and demonstrates the type of technique he wants out of his receiver, who has had his share of struggles in the early going. Just little moments that didn’t exist over the last three years thanks to a conveyor belt type system that coldly zipped player from station to station.

I’m curious to see if the practice style makes any kind of difference. What Kelly did was unusual, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. He was trying to maximize limited time. It just isn’t how the rest of the football world operates. I do like hearing that Pederson is working on relationships with his players and is being very hands-on. It will be interesting to see how things go the first time Pederson has to be tough with a player. Will he have a George Hegamin incident where he shows the team that Mr. Nice Guy can be a jerk when needed?

2:32 — Wentz throws high for McFarland. Later, he connects with Chris Pantale but as the tight end is going to the ground, Quentin Gause swoops in and rips the ball out of Pantale’s hands before running the other way with it.

Gause is a UDFA LB with a chance to win a spot on the roster. Glad to see he’s making some plays.

2:52 — “Maragos gets his revenge!” Paunil exclaims, picking off Wentz’s deep-ball wobbler. Some good and bad out of the rookie today. One thing we can say for sure: he is not afraid to throw the ball downfield.

A Wentz out to Nelson Agholor hits off the tips of the receiver’s fingers and rolls out of bounds. Agholor screams, then repeats to himself over and over: “Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.” Amazing the intensity some of these guys bring to a spring practice. Pro athletes are just wired a different way, Josh and I conclude, as we fan ourselves with our notebooks.

I hate the drop by Agholor, but I love the reaction. He understands it is critical for him to play well this year and get his career headed in the right direction. The team needs that and he needs that. This might just be a minicamp practice, bu the best players never accept mistakes. They want to perform at a high level every time they’re on the field. Agholor has great intangibles. I sure hope the young man turns out to be a good player for the Eagles. He’s the kind of guy you want to cheer for.

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Coxwatch

Posted: June 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 98 Comments »

A lot of drama went away when Fletcher Cox reported to Philly to take part in the Eagles mandatory minicamp. Over the top questions and crazy hyperbole were ready to run rampant, but now we’ll have to live without them. Until the next crazy situation, which always seems to be around the corner with the Eagles.

Cox didn’t miss a lot. He will primarily be the 3-tech DT (or the Under Tackle) in the new scheme. His job is to attack up the field. Over and over and over. Sure, it would have been good for him to work with the new DL coach on some technique stuff and to shake off the rust, but Cox can get up to speed in a hurry.

I agree with Les Bowen that the Eagles actually benefited from Cox’s absence.

In the meantime, Cox’s absence has helped the Eagles get a better feel for their depth at defensive tackle, one of the positions most affected by the switch from 3-4 to 4-3. Beau Allen, drafted in 2014 as a gap-filling nose tackle, has pared his body-fat percentage in an attempt to be more viable in a 4-3.

Asked about spring standouts on Friday, Pederson spoke of “some defensive linemen in there that have really shown flashes of giving us depth at that position.”

Center Jason Kelce, asked Friday who has impressed him, said: “Mike Martin . . . has given tremendous effort, each and every day. I would be doing him a disservice if I didn’t point out how much he has stood out in these OTAs, the effort level he has brought.”

Martin, 6-1, 298, the Titans’ third-round pick in 2012, signed a one-year deal with the Eagles in free agency. He’d played nose tackle in a 3-4 in Tennessee and thought his quickness and aggressiveness might be more suited to a 4-3.

“To have an opportunity to play in a defense like this, that I feel fits my playing style very well, is a huge opportunity for me,” Martin said. “I just want to make sure I capitalize on it as best I can.”

The Eagles know Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are the starters at DT. They have Beau Allen as a backup. Taylor Hart is making the transition from 3-4 DE to DT, a position he hasn’t played in the NFL. Mike Martin is a veteran, but is new to the Eagles and to this scheme. UDFA rookies Destiny Vaeao, Connor Wujciak and Azziz Shittu all have a ton to learn.

Those players got extra reps with Cox skipping the OTAs and Allen missing time due to injury. OTA reps don’t tell you much about who can shed blocks, but they do mean something to players trying to learn a new scheme and who need lots of technique work. You don’t need contact to see how a player lines up, gets off the ball and looks on the move.

I’m still curious about Allen. He was a NT at Wisconsin as a Senior and has played that role in the NFL. He can 2-gap.

What I don’t know is if Allen can attack and be disruptive. The Eagles have kept him around this long. Maybe that’s because he’s hurt. Or maybe they value the thought of one DT being more of a run-stuffer type. I thought Allen would have been long gone by now, but he’s still here. We’ll see how he does in Training Camp.

Darren Sproles also showed up on Monday. His absence wasn’t an issue. Doug Pederson said on Friday that Sproles and Duce Staley are close and had been in regular contact.

Sproles’ absence meant extra reps for Kenjon Barner and rookie Wendell Smallwood. Both players took advantage, impressing the coaches and showing they deserved to be regular parts of the RB rotation. Sproles doesn’t know the Eagles offense, but he is a smart, veteran player and should be able to pick it up quickly. This is another case where the team benefited from extra reps going to the young guys.

*****

This kinda shocked me.

Go read Brandon Lee Gowton’s reaction to the PFF ranking.

BLG covered that well. No need for me to comment, beyond pointing out the fact that PFF comes up with some bizarre conclusions.

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Back to the 4-3

Posted: June 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 88 Comments »

Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox both played in the 4-3 as rookies. It was a 1-gap, attacking defense similar to the one that Jim Schwartz will run this year. Cox had a great position coach in Jim Washburn, but only had him for part of the season. Kendricks had a solid LB coach in Mike Caldwell.

Both Cox and Kendricks suffered due to the defensive coordinator shuffle. Juan Castillo wasn’t doing a great job at the beginning of the year, but things went awry when he was fired at the bye week. Todd Bowles took over the defense and tried to change the scheme to something he preferred. Making changes on the fly proved to be a bad idea and the whole defense just fell apart. Still we could see that Cox and Kendricks were talented players.

Let’s take a look back at Cox and Kendricks playing in the 4-3.

I’m excited to see the Eagles running the 4-3 defense once again, and also with a proven DC who knows exactly what he’s doing.

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Positive Vibes for Bradford

Posted: June 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 75 Comments »

Most people were happy Sam Bradford re-signed with the Eagles. He wasn’t an ideal solution, but, as the Broncos can certainly tell you, there weren’t great QB options this offseason. Then Bradford lost a lot of support with the way he handled the Carson Wentz situation.

After 3 weeks of OTAs, it feels like things are once again good in the land of Sammy Sleeves. Les Bowen wrote a good piece on Bradford.

“Same old Sam,” wideout Josh Huff said Friday. “He’s been a leader in the huddle, been a leader in the meeting room, and he’s demanding perfection out of each and every one of us.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who reiterated Friday that Bradford is his No. 1 quarterback, was asked whether Bradford has separated himself from backup Chase Daniel and rookie Carson Wentz, the player the Eagles traded up to draft second overall, spurring Bradford to want to start anew elsewhere.

“I think so. I think he’s done an outstanding job,” Pederson said. “Again, when you’re spreading reps equally, with three guys, that’s what you want to see, and I think he’s really done a nice job and taken that next step to be the leader of this football team and be the starter.”

Some of this is boilerplate. If Bradford weren’t embracing his role as QB-for-now, Pederson wouldn’t announce that from behind a lectern. Teammates might or might not assert that everything was just great, depending on the teammate, and maybe on the presence or absence of TV cameras. But you can read someone’s manner. When it comes to discussing Bradford, there seems to be enthusiasm and maybe a little relief in the Eagles’ ranks.

That last bit is really interesting. I think Les has a pretty good BS meter. Sounds like he senses genuine enthusiasm and good feelings.

We pick on Bradford for a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is that he is a talented QB who played well down the stretch last year. The Eagles were 7-6 in games that he started and finished. Bradford got better as the season went along.

With an improved O-line and a group of WRs that should be better, Bradford could also be better in 2016. No one is putting the guy in the Hall of Fame, but this could be a breakout season for him. The key will be getting off to a better start.

In the first 7 starts of 2015, Bradford only had one game with a QB rating of higher than 90. In 3 of those games, his rating was 66 or lower. You don’t have to be an analytics guru to know that’s bad.

Bradford is healthy in June for the first time in a while. That’s helping him to practice, learn the offense and build some chemistry with his teammates. If Bradford can get his mental and emotional health to match his physical health, 2016 might be a good year for him.

I don’t know if the Sports Science department has a psychological wing, but getting regular praise from teammates, assistant coaches and Doug Pederson seems to be helping quite a bit so far.

*****

Bradford did develop good chemistry with Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews last year. I hope he can build on that.

This surprises me, but you can see some good throws under pressure in the video above.

*****

Another good sign.

Some of these summer get-togethers are overrated, but this is a good sign after the holdout and all that drama. Bradford has to focus on producing the best results in 2016. If he does that, the future will take care of itself.

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Chase Talks

Posted: June 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 143 Comments »

Backup QB is normally not a spot of great interest on a team. No one was all that fired up about hearing from or talking about Mark Sanchez last year. Chase Daniel is a bit different.

Daniel is getting paid terrific money for a backup. The Eagles were very generous with him. Too generous, some would argue. The Eagles feel Daniel is worth the money for a couple of reasons. He played for Doug Pederson in KC so he knows the offense and can help those around him to learn the system. Knowing a play is one thing, but understanding the nuances is very different. Daniel can help with that.

The Eagles also feel Daniel is a good backup QB. Sanchez was terrible in his 2 starts last year and the team was 0-3 in the games where he threw a pass. The bar isn’t exactly set sky high for Daniel.

Daniel offers unique perspective because he watched the Chiefs learn the offense in 2013 and how he’s seeing the Eagles learn it this spring. You’ll never guess which group he’s more impressed by. Tim McManus has the details.

Daniel is a big Doug Pederson guy and he’s going to say pro-Pederson things, and that’s just the way it is. What was interesting about this particular exchange was that he didn’t realize that he was handing Pederson a pretty monster compliment. Asked why he thought this group was so far ahead of the ’13 Chiefs, he struggled to come up with an answer.

“I don’t know. I think we have some really smart guys in this locker room — not that we didn’t in Kansas City — but I think guys are just picking it up faster. I don’t know what to attribute that to. Maybe they’re studying more, maybe it just makes sense to them,” he said. “It’s hard to tell, but I feel light years ahead of where we were maybe the first year when we installed it.”

Maybe it’s a feather in the cap of the head coach?

“There you go,” Daniel responded. “Doug heard three years of installs from Andy. Andy installed there. I’m sitting next to Doug in Kansas City and he’s taking copious amounts of notes. He knew what he was in for. He’s going to be a head coach, he’s going to run this offense, he’s going to have his own twists on some stuff. And you could really tell. Like for me, it’s a little different because I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, he hit that point. He hit that point.’ Maybe stuff that he wouldn’t think of but we both heard [from Reid]. I’ve been truly impressed with how well he’s installed the offense, so maybe that could be attributed to it, yeah.”

Maybe Daniel is just praising his new head coach. Or maybe he does mean it and he’s impressed by the Eagles. In the end, it really doesn’t make a huge difference which team learned the offense faster. The Chiefs played well in the regular season and that’s the standard the Eagles have to live up to.

PE.com has a video showing Daniel talking with reporters in the locker room.

One of the biggest keys for me in that piece is that Daniel paints a very different picture of the Eagles QBs than what many would like to believe. Sam Bradford and Daniel went to play golf together last week. Daniel has also been a friend and mentor to Carson Wentz. It isn’t compelling. It isn’t salacious. But it sure sounds like Eagles QBs actually get along well.

Daniel wants to start. Wentz wants to start or at least be the backup for now. Bradford wants them both stay on the bench. That competition doesn’t have to be cutthroat. Guys can push each other in the right way. You need the right people. Wentz seems humble for a #2 pick. Daniel has been a grinder his whole NFL career. Bradford is the X-factor. No one would have said a bad word about him as a person until his “Get me to Denver” stunt. Luckily Bradford backed off that and came back to the team quickly enough that no one is going to permanently hate him. 

*****

Speaking of Wentz and being grounded…compare him to Matt Barkley, who was a 4th round pick. Barkley could not understand why he was buried on the bench. Everyone else did, but not Barkley. Give the guy credit for working his butt off, but he simply didn’t deserve to play over the guys above him.

Wentz is saying (and not saying) all the right things so far.

*****

Dave Spadaro did an interview with LB Myke Tavarres.

That was a really good interview. Tavarres is engaging and comes across like a pretty bright guy. When talented, athletic players go to small schools, academics can often be an issue. I wondered if that was the case with Tavarres, but it sure doesn’t seem like that’s an issue based on the way the young man speaks and what he has to say. He told some good stories and has a good perspective on things.

The Eagles need him to play well. They are thin at LB and paid him big bucks to sign with the team after the draft. This just isn’t a camp body. Tavarres is someone they want to make the team.

Lots of raw ability.

*****

PE.com also had a good interview with Nelson Agholor.

Multiple members of the media gave him a chance to talk about injuries from last year as a reason his rookie season didn’t go well. Agholor wasn’t interested in excuses. He knows the pressure is on and that he has to produce. He does not want to follow Marcus Smith to the Land of First Round Disappointments. That is a sad, sad place that everyone should avoid.

Agholor is saying all the right things. He’s also played well this spring. That’s critical. Words are nice, but must be backed up by action.

It is interesting that all of the receivers seem to go out of their way to praise Greg Lewis, the new receivers coach. Bob Bicknell must not have been Mr. Popular.

*****

A few people asked why I didn’t talk about Andrew Gardner in the piece I wrote on the OG situation.

If it were up to me, Gardner would be penciled in at LG. He earned the RG job last summer. I thought he played well until he got hurt. I’m a fan of his.

For some reason, the Eagles coaches don’t seem to be. Maybe he’s not completely healthy. Maybe they don’t like his build at OG. I like Gardner and hate that he seems to be getting brushed aside.

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