Hope for BG

Posted: June 24th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 52 Comments »

I think some people too often see a player’s success or failure as strictly on him. Circumstances do matter.

Joe Montana went to the perfect situation when Bill Walsh drafted him. Montana had good talent, but that turned out to be the ideal system for his skills and athleticism. And Walsh was a good teacher who could be tough when needed. He wasn’t a butt-kisser or a tyrant. He was able to push the players firmly, but fairly and that helped them to thrive under him.

If Montana went elsewhere he almost certainly wouldn’t be thought of as a Top 5 all-time QB. He might have been Jake Plummer, a flawed star who had some special moments. Or he might have just been A.J. Feeley, the backup and spot starter who looked good enough at moments to make you think (wrongly) he could be your full-time starter. Montana could have been a total failure had he gone to the wrong team and been put in really bad circumstances.

Mike Vrabel was a 3rd round pick by the Steelers. He played in 51 games, but never started for them. He was a backup and STs player. Vrabel just didn’t fit what they did and had 7 sacks over his 4 seasons there. Then he went to New England and became one of the key players on a dynasty. Vrabel won 3 Super Bowls. He was incredibly versatile and was a clutch player. His stats are pretty good and still don’t come close to telling the impact he had. What does his career look like if Bill Belichick didn’t sign him?

I bring all of this up because Brandon Lee Gowton wrote a piece for BGN that got me to thinking about Brandon Graham and his career to this point. BLG focused on Graham and his relationship with DL coaches.

“The low point [of my career] was when [Washburn] was here,” Graham said last summer. “That was my low point. Because Wash would make you feel bad, like you can’t play at all. I think once they broke him up and they finally gave me the opportunity, I was kind of in a better mood of just trying to go out there and do what I can.”

Graham moved to 3-4 outside linebacker the season after Washburn got fired but now he’s back to being a defensive end in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme. The good news for Graham is that he appears to have a much better relationship with his new defensive line coach than he did with Washburn.

“I love him, man,” said Graham when asked about his initial impression of Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson. “I think he’s a guy that’s going to get us better. He’s all about the basics and all about the little, tiny things. For us, that’s all we can ask for, is a coach that’s going to coach us on the little things as far as footwork, hand placement, things like that. All the little basic stuff you tend to forget when you get to this level because people expect you to know and do it on your own. With him, he’s definitely a technician.”

Jim Washburn was a great DL coach, but also an incredible jackass and mean SOB. Some players he loved (Jason Babin, Albert Haynesworth), others not so much. I never got the feeling he was a huge fan of Vinny Curry. It doesn’t sound like he cared much for Graham. There is nothing wrong with being hard on players, but you do need it to help them. If being too hard is counter-productive with that player, change things up. Washburn didn’t know how to do that.

Washburn is long since gone and Graham has liked the coaches he’s dealt with since then. His level of play has gotten better, which is crucial. If you complain about a coach hurting your performance, you sure better improve when he’s gone. Graham backed up his words with actions.

I’m excited to see what BG can do this year. He’ll be turned loose. He’ll be playing 4-3 DE (no more LB!!!) and can go get the QB on a regular basis. I’m not expecting him to turn into Reggie White, but this should be the best year of his career.

It really is amazing that Graham made himself into a solid LB. The way he looked back in 2013, you thought the Statue of Liberty would have made a better OLB than him. Kudos to BG for making the best of an awkward situation. Now he’s back to being a DE and doing what the Eagles originally drafted him for.

_


How Bad Were the Eagles Last Year?

Posted: June 22nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 49 Comments »

If you want to know just how bad the Eagles were in 2015, watch this.

Did you get that?

The 2015 Eagles were so bad that their Top 10 plays of the year were limited to just 5 plays.

The NFL…what a bunch of jerks.

Seeing the video did make me think of the old days when you would watch NFL Films Yearbook for each season. Those things were great, even in a losing season. NFL Films could make the 1998 Eagles 3-13 season feel hopeful and positive.

(dramatic voice)

“While the Eagles 1998 season didn’t go as coach Ray Rhodes hoped, the team was very punctual and not one player died. The lessons learned from a tough campaign will certainly help pave the way for a breakout season in 1999.

Young QB Koy Detmer showed a lot of spunk as he led the Eagles to several close losses. Detmer plays with the kind of emotion that Eagles greats like Chuck Bednarik and Steve Van Buren once displayed as they led the City of Brotherly Love to NFL championships.”

You’d finish the video and think…man, we weren’t that awful were we. We had a handful of good plays. That can be the foundation for a Super Bowl run.

I miss watching those videos and the importance they had back then. The music. The graphics. Giving each season a specific theme. That was all great.

Check out the 1988 Eagles…who were living on the edge.

Crazy, but fun year.

_


Be Real

Posted: June 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 69 Comments »

The 2011 Eagles were gunning for the Super Bowl. Didn’t happen. That bunch didn’t even get to the playoffs. The 2014 and 2015 Eagles were also considered Super Bowl teams. Didn’t happen. Not a playoff game for either squad.

Expectations bring hype. And pressure. There is no question in my mind that pressure hurt those teams and affected the team’s performance. Mistakes would snowball and bad moments became long term trends.

We don’t have to worry about sky high expectations for the 2016 Eagles. Jimmy Bama has the story on some comments by Howie Roseman.

When asked point blank on WIP’s Morning Show with Angelo Cataldi on Monday if he thought the Eagles’ roster right now is a “playoff team,” Howie Roseman offered very little in the way of short-term optimism. Rather, his focus was on building a consistent winner over the long haul.

“I don’t know,” said Roseman. “I think we have to get into training camp. We have to get into the season. Injuries play a huge role in what we’re doing. I think this is going to be an extremely competitive camp. I think we have some talented pieces, but I can’t tell you that I’ve sat here and evaluated and gone through the schedule and gone, ‘We’re gonna win this game, we’re gonna lose this game.’ When you’re in the offseason, you’re in building mode, and right now that’s what we’ve been in, is building and trying to get some building blocks in place so that we can have a team going forward that’s competing every year.”

Certainly, when presented with a question like that, most coaches and executives will be careful with their words, but Roseman clearly prioritized the future over the present.

There will be no “going for it”. The Eagles are trying to build a foundation that can sustain success for the next 5 years (hopefully more). There is enough talent in place that the team can compete right away, but moves were made with an eye on the future, not October.

Roseman is naturally aggressive so it is interesting that he’s been able to make this transformation. He really does seem like a changed man. He is still willing to make bold moves (the Wentz trade, the Cox extension), but Roseman isn’t attacking the offseason the way he did previously.

Roseman is doing a great job with the public relations side of things. He accepts blame. He gives praise. And he isn’t hyping this team. Roseman isn’t selling Super Bowls, but rather sustained success. That’s smart. It buys you time and it keeps pressure off the players, allowing them to develop at a reasonable rate instead of dealing with crazy expectations.

As Jimmy points out in his piece, the NFC East is so bad that the Eagles should be in contention this year. That’s not the same thing as being a Super Bowl favorite, but there is nothing wrong beating crappy teams and going for a division crown while you do build for the future.

*****

Interesting note from Dave Spadaro in a recent column.

Matt Tobin, offensive tackle

I’m talking about Matt Tobin, offensive tackle, not Matt Tobin, offensive guard. Tobin was thrown into a tough situation moving to right guard last season and he improved a lot. He’s really a good, solid NFL lineman and he’s at his best in space as a tackle where he can use his feet and his athletic ability. Tobin lined up as a backup at left tackle in the spring, his most natural position. What would happen if Jason Peters went down? Last year, the Eagles moved Lane Johnson from right tackle to left tackle and inserted Dennis Kelly at right tackle. They could certainly do that this year, too. But if Tobin comes along in camp, maybe he can become a trustworthy backup left tackle and help the team that way. The preseason games are going to be very telling.

Tobin has always looked his most natural at LT. I have no idea why the Eagles have been so insistent about using him at RG the past 2 seasons. He looks more natural on the left side so if you want him at OG, at least put him at LG.

I don’t know if Tobin will make this team, but there is enough depth at OG now that I think moving Tobin to OT would be smart. See what the guy can do there. I think his best preseason football has been at LT.

I do know this…it is time for Tobin to poop or get off the pot. He has to show that he belongs in the NFL and can be a reliable player. He struggled early on at Training Camp last year. Tobin can’t afford a repeat of that. He better play the best football of his career if he wants to stay in the NFL.

_


Full Circle

Posted: June 21st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 65 Comments »

Back in 2003 I was a very serious Eagles fan, but I didn’t do any writing. I had thought about starting a website, although that was more to write about the draft than the Eagles. It never really occurred to me that I would have people who wanted to know my thoughts on the Eagles. The draft was a different story. There were no internet videos back then. I taped games relentlessly and then studied them and wrote notes on hundreds of prospects. I didn’t post them anywhere, but that was okay. I did it for my own curiosity and then shared my thoughts with other football fans that I talked to.

The Eagles had a pair of top free agents in the 2003 offseason, DE Hugh Douglas and OLB Shawn Barber. I did not want the team to lose either guy. Hugh was one of my favorite players. He was a terrific DE and also had a great personality. Hugh made football fun. He was easily the team’s top pass rusher so it was critical to keep him. Barber was coming off his only season as an Eagle and had been a stud at WLB. He was fast and made plays, just what you want from that position.

I lived in NC (as I still do) and there wasn’t a lot of news on the status of Douglas and Barber as we headed to free agency. I was desperate to get some info. It occurred to me that Philly radio and TV might have some good rumors so I decided to join the Eagles Message Board. Surely some die-hard fans would be willing to share nuggets with those of us long distance fans.

As I read various threads looking for my info, I noticed questions from other fans that I knew the answer to. I began answering questions. I went back the next day and answered more. And more the next day. It wasn’t too much longer before I began starting threads on free agency and the draft. That’s how I began writing about the Eagles. The person most responsible for that is Hugh Douglas. And that makes this so funny.

Hugh is referring to a piece I wrote for PE.com on the Top 10 DL of the past 30 years. The Fletcher Cox contract extension got all of us to thinking about where he currently stood among the best Eagles D-linemen and where he might finish.

Here is my Top 10

1. Reggie White
2. Jerome Brown
3. Clyde Simmons
4. Trent Cole
5. Fletcher Cox
6. Corey Simon
7. William Fuller
8. Hugh Douglas
9. Andy Harmon
10. Hollis Thomas

I wrote out some thoughts in the piece. I’ll share some more here.

The top two guys are obvious. Go read the piece for my thoughts on them. Things get tricky after that. You have to understand that all of these players are really good. The Eagles have had a lot of good DL over the years.

I went with Simmons #3 because he was so good from 1989-1992. He started all 64 games and had 55 sacks in that span. The defense was outstanding in those years, including the amazing 1991 season. Simmons played for the Eagles for 8 years and had 76 sacks in his career, which is 3rd all time in team history. Simmons also made some crazy plays. He picked off 2 passes and scored 4 TDs with the Eagles.

Cole was next on the list. If we’re going strictly on talent, Cole shouldn’t be this high. Hugh was more talented. Cole got ranked that high for a couple of reasons. First, he played 10 years and I do think longevity counts when doing these rankings. Cole started 145 games for the Eagles and was a rock for the DL. Every week you knew #58 would be the RDE and would play as if his life depended on it. He had 85.5 sacks in his Eagles career, second only to Reggie in team history.

I also went with Cole that high because he was a terrific run defender. He was tough when run plays came at him and relentless in chasing the ball when plays went away from him. Hugh was a good run defender in his own right, but Cole was outstanding.

Corey Simon at #6 is the ranking I’m sure that most find questionable so let’s talk about this. I am not a fan of Corey Simon the person. The Eagles put the franchise tag on him after the 2004 season. It became evident he wasn’t coming back so the Eagles negotiated a trade with the Ravens. The Eagles would get a 2nd and 3rd round pick in return. That was exciting news. Unfortunately Simon would not agree to a deal with the Ravens (who were offering good money) so the trade was off. Other teams wouldn’t bite so the Eagles rescinded the tag and Simon signed with the Colts.

Jerk.

It is easy to focus on the nasty end with Simon and forget how good he was early on. Simon was drafted 6th overall in 2000 and that wasn’t an accident. He was a dominant player at Florida State. I was ecstatic when the Eagles took him. The DL needed a stud in the middle. Hollis Thomas was a good run defender, but a limited playmaker. Simon had the quickness to get off the ball and make plays in the backfield.

As a rookie, Simon had 9.5 sacks and 2 FFs. Jerome Brown’s best season…10.5 sacks, no FFs. In fact, Brown never had a FF in his career, which amazes me with how disruptive he was. Don’t look at the stats and think I’m saying Simon was as good as Brown. I just want you to realize how good Simon was at one point. In his second year, he had 7.5 sacks and 4 FFs. That’s a big FF total for a DT.

I didn’t rely solely on memories when compiling this list. I went back and watched old games to make sure I was fair to all the players. I forgot just how quick and disruptive Simon was at his peak. I think one thing that hurt Simon was the emergence of Darwin Walker in 2002. The problem is that both Simon and Walker were best suited at 3-technique. Neither guy liked doing the dirty work of taking on double teams. Simon was at his best playing beside Hollis Thomas, who was a NT.

In the wild card game vs Tampa after the 2000 season, John Madden talked about how Simon was going to be a “special DT” and great player. Simon was quick, athletic and disruptive. He was in excellent shape and looked worlds different from the guy who played in the Super Bowl. Simon of 2000-01 was a terrific DT. Instead of building on that and becoming a great player, he flat-lined. He was a good starter for all 5 years, but he never became what was expected.

Simon started 78 of 80 games for the Eagles. The team was Top 10 in scoring defense in each of those years and Top 10 in yards allowed in 4 of the 5 seasons. Simon racked up 32 sacks and 8 FFs, both excellent totals for a DT. Simon went to one Pro Bowl and was considered one of the best DTs in the league in each of those seasons.

While he didn’t turn out to be the great player we expected, Simon was a good player for the Eagles. He was outstanding early on and a big reason the Eagles defense was so good from 2000-2004.

William Fuller is one of my favorite Eagles. He wasn’t huge or a great athlete, but was a tough, productive player from 1994-1996. He played with a lot of different linemen in 3 years.

Greg Townsend
Refrigerator Perry
Burt Grossman
Leonard Renfro
Mike Mamula
Rhett Hall
Kevin Johnson
Ronnie Dixon
Daniel Stubbs
Hollis Thomas
Greg Jefferson
Darrion Conner

Andy Harmon started in 1994 and 1995, but was hurt in 1996. Despite playing with that interesting cast of characters, the Eagles finished Top 5 in the league in defense each year and Fuller was a key reason. He had 35.5 sacks and 12 FFs in that span. He also was the foundation of the run defense, by anchoring against TEs and RTs on a regular basis. Fuller was a Pro Bowl player in each of his seasons as an Eagle. The only downside to him is a lack of longevity.

I have Hugh in the #8 spot. You can easily make an argument for him to go higher. He was an excellent pass rusher. I loved the fact he used to get down in a 4-point stance. So many guys wanted to get in a track stance. Hugh squatted down and then exploded at the snap. It made him fun to watch because he wasn’t just a cookie cutter player. He was Hugh. And very good. He went to the Pro Bowl from 2000-2002 and had 37 sacks in that span. Hugh never had a stud pass rusher on the opposite side of him. Simon pushed the pocket up the middle, but the Eagles weren’t loaded with pass rushers aside from them.

Harmon was a terrific interior pass rusher. He was 6-4, 280, which is an unusual build for a DT. Harmon played DE in college and was drafted to be a DE. He wasn’t a stout run defender, but was an active, disruptive DT. Harmon has more sacks than any DT in Eagles history with 39.5.

I went with Thomas to round out the list. He is the only guy here who was primarily a run defender. You could make an argument that Mike Patterson should have this spot, but I went with Thomas since he showed the ability to make some plays and be a run stuffer. Thomas came into the league about 310 pounds. He was slightly bigger than than when he played his final season with the Eagles in 2005. Early on, Thomas had some quickness and could make plays.

The key thing to remember in this discussion is that there is no right and wrong. Reggie and Jerome are the top two. After that, you can make a lot of different arguments based on how you look at things.

The biggest takeaway for me is that we’ve been very lucky over the years. The Eagles have had a lot of outstanding DL. I can’t wait to see this year’s group and how they play in the 4-3. Should be a lot of fun.

Oh…and some good news. Hugh won’t be hunting me down.

_


Happy Father’s Day

Posted: June 19th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 102 Comments »

Football and fathers go hand in hand. Many people become fans while watching games with their dad. I learned to love the game of football from my dad. He was a little league coach and I attended games in my stroller. I’m sure between sips of Tang (or whatever infants drank in 1970-72) I was yelling for him to run Flip 90, the greatest of all plays.

My parents divorced while I was young so I didn’t grow up watching a lot of games with my dad. We were together each year around Christmas so we watched plenty of bowl games and some NFL action, but for most of the year I was on my own. Sort of.

I was lucky enough to have some Football Dads who helped me to learn and love the game. First and foremost, John Madden. Many of you younger fans will scoff at the idea of John Madden being important to anyone. I learned more about the game of football from listening to him than anyone else. And it isn’t even close. He is the greatest football announcer of all time. I don’t think there is even a 2nd place.

I get the fact that many now think of him as the guy who loved Brett Favre and felt a bit cartoonish with what he said and did. But that’s like judging Johnny Unitas on his time with the Chargers or Donovan McNabb on his time with the Vikings.

In his prime, Madden brought a passion for the game and combined that with an expertise that I had never heard before. He was fun and smart. He talked about OL play at a time when not many people discussed the big uglies. Madden shared great stories and had interesting opinions. Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach of all time. Joe Namath was the toughest QB he ever coached against. The hardest points to score are the first of the game. More than anything else, Safeties must be able to tackle. And so on. Every Madden game was an education for me.

Another huge influence for me was Steve Spurrier. I lived in Durham, NC when Spurrier was hired by Duke in 1980. Duke football wasn’t all that exciting back then, but Spurrier brought an aggressive passing game and suddenly the Blue Devils were interesting to follow. Spurrier opened my eyes to the value of the passing game. Football was different back then. Georgia won the 1980 national title. In the Sugar Bowl, they threw 13 passes, one by a RB.

Spurrier left Duke and went to Tampa Bay in the USFL, which made me a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits. I watched as many of their games as I could. That was a glorious time.

(best YouTube video I’ve seen in a long time)

Eventually Spurrier returned to Duke as the head coach and I continued to learn the passing game from him. And the greatness of Arby’s.

I’ve written a lot over the years about my love of Tom Landry. I still have no idea why he fascinated me the way he did. It might simply have been the fact he reminded me of someone’s grandad, but was arguably the best football coach in the world. Reading about how he developed the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the NY Giants taught me a lot about the evolution of the game.

Landry made me a fan of the 4-3. Buddy Ryan took things to the next level with his 46 Defense. He made me love X’s and O’s in a way I never had.

Mike Singletary Chicago BearsJanuary 27, 1986S 587credit:  Bill Smith - spec

Instead of a simple 4-3, you had an Under defense with a LB stack, an eighth man in the box and all kinds of shifting responsibilities. Buddy Ryan was the football version of Beethoven. There was a combination of simple and complex ideas mixed together in such a way as to overwhelm the mind and senses. The 1985 Bears defense was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in sports. They were brutal and brilliant. They were violent and versatile. They were mind-blowing.

Buddy is the first defensive coach (any only one I can think of) whose first goal was for his guys to score. Think about that. Buddy wanted his defense to score. That is so cocky. And unorthodox. And genius. He assumed his defense would stop the offense. He was focused on taking the ball away and then trying to score points.

When Buddy became coach of the Eagles in 1986, that led me to become an Eagles fan. If he hadn’t come to Philly, I have no idea what NFL team I would be following. Maybe I would be writing about the Sixers (my first Philly love) or even the Flyers (my second Philly love). Or maybe I would have moved away from sports and focused my writing on the career of Dennis Farina, the greatest actor of the past 500 years.

I have to also offer thanks to the men who coached me on the game. Gene Brewer, Kim Cain, Melvin Braswell, Randy Ledford and Robert Rice all helped to teach me about the game of football on a personal level. Coach Brewer and Coach Ledford have passed on and the world is a worse place without them.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with coaches like David Knauss, Ruffin McNeilll and John Wiley while I was a student at Appalachian State University. They continued my football education, and at a more advanced level.

I am jealous of those of you who watched Eagles games with your dad and learned to love the team that way. That’s a special bond I’ll never know. At the same time, I am grateful to the men who helped me fall in love with the game of football and learn about it from a variety of angles. I would not be the person I am today (for better or worse) without their wisdom and influence.

buddy_ryan_1987_12_27

*****

If you haven’t watched the 30 for 30 special on the 1985 Bears, do it. The relationship between Buddy and his players is special. Watching Buddy and Mike Singletary is hard to describe. It really is like watching a father and son. There is genuine love between those two. Incredibly moving.

_