Training Camp Gets Real

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 14 Comments »

Full team. Full pads. No tackling, but this was the closest thing we’ve seen to real football in a long time. Let’s check out what happened.

Fran Duffy had some good DL notes. You have to start with 1st round pick Derek Barnett.

A. All eyes were on first-round pick Derek Barnett, who impressed me a number of times. He can win with speed on the outside as he beat Taylor Hart with a violent chop move, but can he win in other ways?

Barnett lined up for two straight reps against veteran lineman Matt Tobin early in the drill, and on both times he tried to win with a spin move inside. On the first rep, Tobin was able to keep him blocked, but on the second rep you could see Barnett better sell the outside speed rush before countering inside with the spin move, winning with ease, and getting to the “quarterback” on the rep.

Barnett also squeezed in a speed-to-power rush which wasn’t extremely effective at first glance, but the important takeaway is that he is working on those moves now and refining his timing with executing those techniques. As he continues to develop his plan of attack against offensive tackles, Barnett will become an increasingly dangerous weapon for this Eagles defensive line.

Barnett is going to win some reps and lose some reps. The key for him is to learn. You can learn by winning or losing a rep. You find out what works and what doesn’t. You also see just how critical technique can be. Hand-placement, pad level and footwork are every bit as important as catching the blocker by surprise. The best pass rushers know what move to use and when to use it, but also how to execute it properly.

That note about Tobin blocking him the first time, but then getting beaten is very encouraging to hear. That shows you Barnett is paying attention and learning.

Next is rookie Elijah Qualls, who missed most of the spring.

B. One player I was very excited to see was rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. His first rep came against Jason Kelce, and he stumbled out of the gate, allowing Kelce to bury him into the dirt. On his next rep, this time against Stefen Wisniewski, Qualls won with an outside rip move. Later, Qualls showed the ability to string multiple pass rush moves together, executing a bull rush on Josh Andrews before converting to a swim move and winning inside. Qualls certainly has the size to compete inside, but his athleticism is a bit underrated by some. He showed off his potential as a pass rusher on Friday morning.

Last year the Eagles got 11.5 sacks from the DT position. That’s not good enough. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan should combine for more than that this year, but backup DTs need to help as well. Destiny Vaeao had a couple of sacks as a rookie. Qualls will be competing for a roster spot, but also to get playing time. He has the skill set to be disruptive and to get to the QB.

Qualls doesn’t look like a pass rusher, but he’s got the athleticism, the moves and the mindset that you need to get to the QB. If he can get into the backfield, Qualls will have a job and get on the field.

Now for a note on second year DE Alex McCalister.

D. The rep that drew the biggest reaction came from second-year defensive end Alex McCalister, who exploded off the snap and bull-rushed converted-defensive lineman Taylor Hart, vaulting him into the air and onto the ground. The defensive line group, perhaps mostly at their former linemate’s suspense, was hooting and hollering all the way up until the two faced off again on the next rep. This time, McCalister tried to win with an inside dip move, and Hart rode the former Florida pass rusher out of harm’s way with relative ease. It was a rough day for Hart, who saw his first significant one-on-one action since becoming an offensive lineman, but it was good to see him battle back after losing the previous rep.

Howie Roseman talked about how great McCalister looked early in the offseason. The media didn’t seem to think he had added nearly enough bulk or muscle to be much of a factor this year. Jim Schwartz mentioned in Friday’s PC that McCalister is a DE the team likes. Let’s not make too much of him beating Taylor Hart, who it sounds like really struggled, but it is encouraging to hear McCalister flashed. He is a natural pass rusher with great length and good athleticism. There is a lot to work with. He just has to show he’s got functional NFL strength. He needs more days like that.

Lots of good stuff from Fran and Chris McPherson. Go read those notes.

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Jimmy Bama was impressed by Torrey SmithRead the rest of this entry »


Full House

Posted: July 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 37 Comments »

The full Eagles team hit the field on Thursday. This was just a 10-10-10 practice, so it was pretty limited in terms of length and action.

The big news of the day is that Jordan Matthews was a full participant. He missed a lot of time in the spring and there has been a lot of speculation this week about whether he was really injured or if this had to do with his contract situation. Doug Pederson said earlier in the week that Matthews would be limited to start camp. That wasn’t the case and he had a full day. To be fair, pads weren’t on and this was a short practice. We’ll have to wait and see if Matthews is limited at all this weekend.

Jeff McLane has a good story on the situation.

He hustled as always and entertained many questions afterward, as usual. But the Matthews who used to run out every catch even after it was whistled dead wasn’t as spry. The interviewee who is normally as candid as any player declined to go into detail about the injury that the Eagles have labeled “tendinitis.”

“I hate putting a specific word on it because then people say, ‘Oh, well, I played with that before,’” Matthews said. “Trust me, if I could be out here and play, I would be out here playing. … That should never be a question about me when it comes to this game.”

And yet that hasn’t stopped public criticism about the severity of his injury or speculation that Matthews didn’t practice during organized team activities and minicamp in May and June because he was distracted by his contract situation.

“I would never literally do that,” Matthews said. “If you [reporters] know me from the time that I’ve been here, I go to work. This is a privilege to be able to play football regardless, whether it’s the Philadelphia Eagles vs. anybody.

Matthews isn’t as important because of the upgrades at WR, but he is still a key part of the passing game. Carson Wentz likes him personally and trusts him as a receiver. Matthews knows the offense well and he’s willing to do anything he can to help the team win.

It will be interesting to see if Matthews is bothered by the knee or is able to stay on the practice field and help the offense take a big step forward this year.

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Jimmy Bama had a great day on Thursday.

Fast forward to the 12:40 mark of the video below. Jimmy and Jeff McLane are watching Greg Ward field punts when Doug Pederson walks over and chats with them for three minutes. They tell him this is live and he still sits there and talks. Very cool by Doug.

Jimmy made the point that Doug sounds so much more natural in this setting and he’s right. Doug doesn’t interview well. Put cameras on him and a microphone in front of him and something weird happens. But get him in a relaxed setting and he’s worlds different.

In Jimmy’s practice notes, he talks about timing the punters to see who was better. Donnie Jones had an average hangtime of 4.95 and rookie Cameron Johnston had an average hangtime of 4.45. Doesn’t sound like Jones will be losing his job any time soon. And Jones noticed Jimmy timing the punts, which led to this.

Later in practice, Jones walked over and asked if I was timing his punts. I confirmed that I was, so he took a look at his numbers in my notes. I then asked him about some speculation that he was going to retire soon. Nope. He said he plans to play for another four years if he can, and cited a handful of other kickers and punters still in the NFL at the age of 40.

So Jimmy got an impromptu interview with the coach and a scoop from the punter. Not a bad day at all.

*****

Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson had some good practice notes.

3. One quick depth chart note that I picked up early in practice when the first-team defense took the field – cornerback Ron Brooks worked with the first-team nickel package in the slot, with Jalen Mills (left corner) and Patrick Robinson (right) on the outside. In the spring, with Brooks on the sideline, we saw Mills slide into the slot with rookie Rasul Douglas stepping in outside in those looks. We’re all excited to see how the rotation evolves as camp progresses. – FD

As much as we want Rasul Douglas to play well and start, it is more likely that Patrick Robinson will play better and have the job initially. Douglas has a lot of learning to do and it could take a while for things to click.

10. Linebacker Jordan Hicks was a limited participant due to the finger injury he suffered while on his honeymoon. He wore a soft cast on his hand. Najee Goode was the first-team middle linebacker in Hicks’ absence. Hicks wants fans to know that he’ll be fine. – CM

Interesting that Goode got snaps at MLB. Apparently Joe Walker was with the #2 defense. I assume Walker will stay as the #2 MLB when Hicks is a full go and Goode moves to the backups, but we’ll have to see. Goode can play OLB or MLB.

12. Dillon Gordon will be an X-factor for the Eagles’ offense. He lined up as a third tight end. He was a fullback. On short-yardage situations, how will teams handle seeing the Eagles line up in the I-formation with the 322-pound Gordon leading the way for Blount, who is 250 pounds. – CM

I’m really curious to see if Gordon plays LT or LG with the #2 offense. The Eagles worked him more at OG last summer, but he got some time at LT in game situations and showed LT potential. That’s something you take seriously. We do know the coaches like Gordon and seem to want to find ways to use him. Very good sign for a young player.

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Brandon Lee Gowton has your OL depth chart for now.

First team offensive line: Jason Peters – Isaac Seumalo – Jason Kelce – Brandon Brooks – Lane Johnson. Second team offensive line: Dillon Gordon – Chance Warmack – Stefen Wisniewski – Josh Andrews – Halapoulivaati Vaitai. After practice, Pederson noted the development of Gordon and Big V helped the team feel comfortable about trading Allen Barbre.

That is written in pencil, not ink. Still, interesting to see where there are starting the players off for camp. I am glad to see them using Gordon at LT. Find out if he can play there. That’s a critical position and Jason Peters isn’t getting any younger. Trying to develop Gordon for the future would be smart.

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Speaking of JP…

That is a great education for a rookie. You might worry that a young player who gets blocked too much would lose some confidence, but I don’t see Barnett as that kind of guy. I think it will just light a fire under him and make him that much hungrier to beat the star veteran on the next play.

Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes.

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Busted

Posted: July 27th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 71 Comments »

It’s official. Marcus Smith will not surpass Reggie White as the greatest Eagles pass rusher of all time. There was tremendous debate as to whether that would happen, according to Smith, his agent and the voices in his head.

White had 124 sacks as an Eagle, often fighting through double and sometimes even triple-teams. Smith came up a tad short, finishing his career with 4 sacks.

I think Smith has NFL talent, but he doesn’t have the right mentality or sense of urgency. Good defensive players play with anger or desperation. They attack the QB/RB/WR like a lion on the hunt. See prey.  Attack prey. Kill prey.

Smith never showed that edge. He was quick off the ball. He was athletic. But he didn’t play with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t desperate to get to the QB. If you could take the fire that burned inside of Trent Cole and put that in Smith, you’d have one heck of a pass rusher. Instead you had a tease. Smith would flash some athleticism and then disappear for a quarter or two.

Smith played on STs last year and showed some signs of wanting to do the right thing. I just don’t think he understood how hard pro football is. You can’t just be talented. You can’t just try hard at times. You have to pour your soul into this game and play like your life depends on it. Smith was talented enough to be good in college without the right mentality. Things changed in the NFL and he didn’t adapt well.

Because he was a 1st round pick, the Eagles showed patience. The light came on for Nelson Agholor this spring. That didn’t happen for Smith. He saw the drafting of Derek Barnett as a sign his future was done here. Instead of embracing the challenge and having that bring out the best in him, Smith stayed away from Philly for a lot of the spring. The other 31 teams can’t be impressed with what they’ve seen from Smith, on or off the field.

*****

The Eagles saved money. They got younger. And they possibly added a 7th round pick in 2019.

Frank Reich announced on Wednesday that Isaac Seumalo would be the starting LG. Barbre became expendable because of the other young OL they had on the roster.

LT – Jason Peters
LG – Isaac Seumalo
C – Jason Kelce
RG – Brandon Brooks
RT – Lane Johnson

  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai – Played RT in 2016. Eagles feel he could play both OT spots.
  • Matt Tobin – Has played LT, RT, LG and RG. Best as backup LT.
  • Dillon Gordon – Played a lot of LG last summer, but showed LT potential.
  • Stefen Wisniewski – Has started at OG and C in his career.
  • Chance Warmack – Could backup at either OG spot.

That is a pretty good 1-10 set of O-linemen. And the Eagles still have Tyler Orlosky, Taylor Hart and other guys beyond that. Even without Barbre in the mix, there is good depth and competition. Not every player will pan out, but I don’t blame the Eagles for moving Barbre. They can now give his reps to a young player to develop for the present and the future.

Barbre would have been a luxury player. There may be a time this year the Eagles regret letting him go, but if one of the young guys develops and can help the team for the next few years, this will be a terrific move. It really boils down to needing one of the young OL to step up and play well.

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Love this move.

Jordan Hicks has a bit of a hand injury (but no cast on it per Tim McManus). His backup is Joe Walker, who is coming off a torn ACL and has never played in the NFL. It makes sense for the Eagles to bring back Daniels, a player I loved for the 2016 draft.

Daniels has had injury issues of his own. Let’s hope he’s healthy enough to play and show what he can do.

*****

There was practice on Wednesday.

Jimmy Bama

Fran Duffy

Jeff McLane

Brandon Lee Gowton

The Eagles sat Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and some other vets so this was a really young group. Didn’t sound like anything too compelling happened. Still good notes from everyone.

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Day 2 of Training Camp

Posted: July 26th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 76 Comments »

The young guys had their second day of Training Camp. Let’s get right to the notes.

First up, Fran Duffy.

1. The biggest takeaway for me today was second-year linebacker Joe Walker. A 2016 seventh-round pick who missed his rookie year with a torn ACL suffered late last August, Walker looked like he was going to make the opening 53-man roster before his injury. A year later, the athletic linebacker stood out on the second day of camp, and it was apparent from the jump. Practice started with special teams individual drills, with a host of players practicing one by one on their ability to block on the kickoff return team. Walker, by my eyes, was the most impressive of the day, looking explosive, violent, and stout at the point of attack.

“I’m feeling good. It’s good to be back out there. It was a long break from the football field, so I’m feeling good,” Walker said. “Mentally, I feel very good. Day 1 was to kind of break the rust away. I’m getting more comfortable every day.”

In the last practice session of the day, Walker was integral to two interceptions down in the red zone. On the first, Walker got the defense lined up as the middle linebacker, helping fellow second-year player Don Cherry get lined up just before the snap. The ball was knocked up into the air, and Walker outleaped rookie defensive back Randall Goforth for the interception. Brooks, clearly impressed by the feat and maybe with a little bit of good-natured jabbing at Goforth, turned to the media and said, “Write that down, (Goforth) got out jumped by a linebacker.” Goforth shouldn’t feel too bad, however, because Walker was known as an outstanding athlete coming out of Oregon last spring, as his Pro Day test scores resulted in him being one of the most prolific athletes at the linebacker position in the last decade coming out of college.

Just a few plays later, Walker helped create another interception, this time for Cherry. Quarterback Dane Evans put a pass right on the hands of rookie Greg Ward, but Walker got to the catch point at the same time, helping to knock the ball into the air for Cherry to pick the pass off to end practice.

Walker could be a key reserve for the Eagles. Jordan Hicks is a terrific MLB, but the team doesn’t have a set backup to him. Walker looked to be that guy last year, but the injury ended that idea. Now Walker has to show that he’s healthy and capable of being a reliable backup and productive role player.

Walker is 6-2 and athletic. He could also possibly play some SAM if needed. Nigel Bradham could be facing a suspension and the Eagles don’t have a natural SAM on the roster other than him. Walker has the potential to handle that role, assuming he’s healthy and continues to develop as expected. These are down the road possibilities. For now, Walker just needs to keep mending and getting confidence in his knee. Contact practices will be the next big hurdle for him.

Now for the Wentz update.  Read the rest of this entry »


Eagles Add Interesting TE

Posted: July 25th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 37 Comments »

NFL teams keep an open mind when it comes to finding players. That’s especially true at TE, where basketball players have even become stars. Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham did not have traditional football backgrounds. Both of them have more Pro Bowl appearances than years of college football experience.

The Eagles signed a Canadian rugby player on Monday to add to the TE mix. Adam Zaruba, 6-6, 265, is a long shot, but has the kind of size you want in a TE. He also is going to be the kind of physical player the Eagles could use at the position.

Please keep in mind that Zaruba is at the bottom of the roster. He has a limited football background and isn’t going to come in and steal a roster spot from one of the holdovers from last year. You want Zaruba to add a big, physical presence to practice, but also to see if he is worth possibly developing for the future.

Zaruba isn’t on the field yet.

Most non-football guys don’t pan out, but teams will keep looking, hoping to find the next hidden gem.

*****

Doug Pederson had some strange comments in his press conference yesterday. He talked about Jordan Matthews being healthy, but also not practicing. That is pretty contradictory.

Pederson later admitted something was up with Matthews’ knee, but then reminded us he’s not a doctor and told the media to talk to the Eagles medical staff for specific info.

Beyond that, Pederson didn’t say anything particularly compelling or interesting.

*****

Jeff McLane wrote an excellent piece on CB Rasul Douglas.  After getting off to a hot start in the spring, things changed for Douglas as the coaches opened up the playbook.

“It was strong at first because we were only running a few coverages. And once we started learning a few [more] coverages, I just started mentally messing up with a lot of checks,” Douglas said on Monday after the first day of training camp. “My brain processed the first call, but once I got the second call, I had to process that, but the play was already snapped.”

Douglas has the tools to play in the NFL, but like so many rookies he has to adjust to the complicated schemes and playbooks. The mental side of pro football is usually the bigger challenge for young players. Real good piece from McLane.

*****

Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson posted some great notes from the first day of practice. Go read this.

2. Only one tight end is in attendance during the early stages of camp, and that’s another undrafted free agent in Shepherd’s Billy Brown. The 6-4, 255-pound Brown has NFL size and looked smooth in drills today, catching everything that went his direction. – FD

Brown has to shine as a receiver if he’s got any shot at either a roster spot or the practice squad. Blocking is going to be the real challenge for him, but coaches will be patient there if he’s impressive enough when catching passes.

8. A trimmer Corey Clement looked smooth catching the ball out of the backfield. Running backs coach Duce Staley told Clement that he wants him to tip the scales at 215 pounds. After weighing 227 at the start of Rookie Camp, Clement reported at the goal weight.

“I spent a lot of time on the conditioning part. I really didn’t touch weights too much. It was all body weight stuff,” said Clement of his time away from the NovaCare Complex ahead of Training Camp. “I just made sure that I slimmed down coming into camp. I feel great. Coming in and out of my routes, running, I feel a lot lighter on my feet. I just want to show the coaching staff I can be a lighter back and more versatile.” – CM

I recently re-watched some tape of Clement from Wisconsin. He has pretty good feet, but his upper body is kinda stiff. That makes for an odd combination. He did catch a screen pass and deliver a nice gain in the game. He’ll have to show he can be an effective receiver to really push for a roster spot.

I think Duce was smart to have Clement lose weight. Clement isn’t a power runner so being up in the 230 range doesn’t really benefit him. He’s better off being light and being able to cut and make moves.

*****

LB Joe Walker is also back and practicing.

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