Excitement is in the Air

Posted: July 31st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 55 Comments »

Training Camp is the first real football of the year. Players will be in pads. There will be hitting and even some tackling. The media is there everyday so we get constant reports on who is headed to Canton, Ohio and who has one foot in the football grave. Fun stuff.

This year’s camp is generating a lot of excitement because there is a great combination of curiosity and excitement. Many people feel the Eagles are going to win 10 to 13 games, despite the fact they changed QB, RB, WR, ROLB, CB, S and both OG spots.

Everyone is going to be focused on Sam Bradford, and for good reason. He is the most talented pocket passer the Eagles have had since…Jaws? Vick, McNabb and Garcia were all athletic players. Feeley was more overachiever than naturally talented. Ditto that for Ty Detmer. No one would describe Randall Cunningham as a pocket passer. He was The Ultimate Weapon.

Bradford can’t prove himself in Training Camp. He’ll have to wait for real games to do that. He can start to answer some questions and show his potential. The first order of business is obviously staying on the field. Bradford won’t be getting tackled or hit hard, but he’ll have the occasional rusher bump into him. Bradford needs to show that he can move around on the leg. He needs to show he can plant and drive when throwing. Ideally, you want to see him looking comfortable on the field. You don’t want him grimacing as he throws. You don’t want him favoring the leg. Bradford needs to look natural.

The pass rush will be live. Bradford will have to deal with bodies around him. That can be an issue for some players coming off an ACL injury. They get very protective of their legs and will focus on that more than running the play correctly. It will be a great sign if Bradford can stay focused on executing the play and not watching the rush or trying to protect his legs.

That’s the simple stuff.

Bradford will have a lot of pressure to perform well. Because of his background at Oklahoma, playing in a fast-paced offense and getting the ball out quickly should come naturally to him. Next is decision-making. You want to see him getting the ball to the right receiver. Last year Nick Foles was trying to be perfect and that led to him holding the ball too long at times. Mark Sanchez got rid of the ball quickly, which meant every game there were wide open players running down the field screaming for the ball while a checkdown target was battling for a 4-yard gain.

Back in his rookie year, Bradford was a checkdown QB when playing in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Now that Bradford is a veteran and he’s playing with a good OL and good receivers, he needs to be more aggressive. During the first few days of TC, he might focus on getting the ball out quickly, which means finding the first open receiver, often on a short route. That’s fine. If he’s still doing that on August 14, we might have an issue. You have to use the whole field. You have to use all your weapons.

Accuracy is an area where Bradford should be a step up from Foles and Sanchez. Some of you have pointed out that Bradford didn’t have a good completion percentage with the Rams. There is a big difference in accuracy and completion percentage. Accuracy is putting the ball where you want it. Completion percentage is all about receivers making catches. Bradford was very accurate at Oklahoma.

You don’t see a lot of receivers having to stop and wait for the ball. You don’t see many circus catches. Bradford put the ball in the right spot so his guys could make the catch. On many throws, he put the ball in the right spot so they could grab it on the move and then go for a big RAC play. That’s accuracy.

Completing 54 percent of your passes with a WR corps of Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Gibson and Austin Pettis doesn’t tell me a whole lot, especially when the LT is Rodger Saffold. How much time was there to throw? Were guys getting open? Were they running the right routes? Were drops an issue? And so on.

I expect Bradford to play well this summer. He’ll make some bad throws and likely have a bad day or two. That’s going to happen with a new team, a new scheme and lots of rust. Overall, I think he will look like a good starting QB and will kill any notion that Mark Sanchez can win the job.

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama is the King of Training Camp. He’s great at taking notes and noticing all kinds of interesting things. Make sure you read all his reports this summer.

Bama previewed TC by making 25 predictions. My favorite ones…

12) Most likely player to have one good practice that a national reporter attends, and the reporter is flabbergasted that said player is not being talked about by the locals: Miles Austin

13) Most likely reporter to be “that guy”: Peter King

Bama vs Little Pete King? My money is definitely on Bama.


Better D?

Posted: July 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 205 Comments »

There seems to be quite a bit of optimism in regard to the Eagles and the upcoming season. Fans are excited, but that’s to be expected. The local media seems optimistic. Even the national media is going out of their way to say good things.

Interesting stuff.

The thinking seems to be that Chip Kelly, DeMarco Murray, the OL, the skill players and Bradford/Sanchez will be a productive enough offense. The STs will be good once again. And the defense will take a major step forward.

I’m not sure what to think about the Eagles defense. There is absolutely reason for optimism. Check out this from a recent Jimmy Bama article.

In many ways the Eagles’ defense was good in 2014, especially the front seven. However, all it really takes is to have one glaring weakness to diminish all the good, as noted by defensive coordinator Billy Davis after the Eagles’ loss to the Redskins Week 16.

“The deep pass ball has got to stop,” said Davis. “That is what is giving up yards, and our points (allowed) aren’t where they need to be. There are a lot of aspects of the defense that have grown. Our run average per attempt is (good), our takeaways are in the top five, our sacks are in the top five, our opponent completion percentage is in the top five. But the one that matters most is points, and that’s the one we have to get down, and we’re not doing that. That’s a product of the deep passing game.”

The defense did some really good things. They finished 6th in takeaways and 2nd in sacks. They held opposing RBs to 3.7 ypc, which was 5th in the NFL. They only allowed one 100-yard rusher all year (Frank Gore). The defense held opposing QBs to just a 58.4 completion percentage, which was 3rd lowest in the league. If you look inside total yards (28th) and points allowed (22nd), you can see some good signs.

But the pass coverage was dreadful. More from Bama.

The Eagles’ secondary was perhaps the weakest area on the team in 2014. It was a unit that gave 72 pass plays of 20+ yards (4.5 per game!), which was the third highest total in NFL history.

That deserves a “Yikes!” for sure.

And even the good stats are a bit misleading. One of the reasons the Eagles held opponents to a low completion percentage is that teams threw deep on them. The Eagles gave up 7.8 yards per pass attempt, good for 28th in the NFL.

Think about the Eagles 49 sacks. 22 of them came in blowouts over the Giants, Panthers and Titans. Those teams had poor OL play and the Eagles feasted on them. In the other 13 games, the Eagles had a total of 27 sacks. That’s still 2 per game, but it helps put things more in perspective.

Kirk Cousins threw for 427 yards against the Eagles. Austin Davis lit them up for 375. Not exactly Brady and Manning.

Against playoff teams, the Eagles went 3-4, allowing 28 points a game. The wins came against former #1 overall picks Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, as well as a banged-up Tony Romo on Thanksgiving.

I don’t think anyone would dispute the statement that the defense is more talented in 2015. The question is how good will they be. Some people think the defense could be pretty darn good. I hope, but I’m hesitant to fully buy in.

Let’s look at the depth chart for now.

DE Fletcher Cox … Brandon Bair
NT Bennie Logan … Beau Allen
DE Cedric Thornton … Vinny Curry
LB Brandon Graham … Marcus Smith
IB Mychal Kendricks … Jordan Hicks
IB Kiko Alonso … DeMeco Ryans
LB Connor Barwin … Travis Long
SS Malcolm Jenkins … Earl Wolff
FS Walter Thurmond … Jerome Couplin
CB Byron Maxwell … JaCorey Shepherd
CB Nolan Carroll … Eric Rowe
NB Brandon Boykin

The DL could be outstanding, especially if Allen takes makes a leap in his second season and Taylor Hart wins the backup RDE spot. Depth is crucial to a good DL.

The ILBs could take a big step forward with the addition of Alonso. When healthy, he is big, rangy and a playmaker. He and Kendricks give the team a pair of athletic guys to cover the middle of the field. That should help with pass coverage. Ryans will see plenty of snaps and can still be good. He’s just not as athletic as the other two.

OLB is a mystery. Connor Barwin is coming off a career year. I expect him to play well, but chances are he won’t come up with 14.5 sacks. Brandon Graham will start at ROLB for the first time in his career. He was outstanding as a backup in 2014, but now must become a workhorse defender at a key position. Graham could be a breakout performer, or he could have trouble sustaining his level of play with an additional 20 snaps per game. Going from productive backup to key starter is a huge move. And who will replace Graham as the top backup OLB? Marcus Smith has a chance to be quite valuable, but has yet to show anything at the NFL level. Brad Jones and Travis Long can play ILB or OLB. The x-factor here could be if Vinny Curry gets mixed into the LB rotation. He is a terrific pass rusher. The OLBs have a lot of potential, but several question marks as well.

Safety is the biggest question on the entire defense. Malcolm Jenkins is an above average starter and a very good fit for what the Eagles want, on and off the field. Walter Thurmond is new to the Eagles and new to the position of Safety, unless you count some practice snaps here and there. Can he prove to be an effective starter? Can he be any kind of a playmaker? Can he stay healthy? Thurmond has been in the NFL for 5 years and he’s played 36 games. He makes Sam Bradford look like Cal Ripken. Thurmond does make sense for this team and for this situation. He is an ideal fit at Safety in the Eagles scheme. And the team’s Sports Science program should give him the best possible chance to stay on the field. After those two, things are wide open. Earl Wolff has potential, if his knee holds up. Jerome Couplin has potential, but he has virtually no on-field experience. Can Chris Prosinski play on defense? Jaylen Watkins could be the x-factor here. He’s played both CB and S this offseason. The Eagles seem to want him ready to go to whichever spot is more desperate.

CB should be better. Byron Maxwell is coming into his own and has outstanding potential. Nolan Carroll had a great offseason and is completely healthy. He is on top of the depth chart for now, but will be challenged by Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and possibly Watkins. Brandon Boykin is one of the better nickelbacks in the league. The Eagles lack experience at corner, but have more size and talent than in recent years.

If the Eagles stay healthy…

If Byron Maxwell plays to the level the Eagles expect…

If Walter Thurmond can be an effective starter…

This defense can take a step forward and become a pretty solid unit.

But this is no sure thing. There are a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of “ifs”.

I think the defense will be improved in 2015, but can this group be a Top 15 type of unit? I’m more hopeful than confident on that.

Watch this video and you’ll think the D was right on par with the ’85 Bears last year. It’s a bit misleading, but is well done and a lot of fun to watch. And you see big plays from a lot of returning players, which does make you feel good about the defense in 2015.

* * * * *

Apologies for the delay in not posting. Go Daddy had some serious issues that affected a lot of sites. I assume Danica Patrick will be stopping by to personally apologize to me. That would be great so that we could talk about the Eagles RG situation and I could get her thoughts on who will win the job.


RB Update

Posted: July 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 149 Comments »

With Chris Polk out of the picture, this was supposed to be the year that Matthew Tucker made a roster push. If Chip Kelly really wants this team to focus on the run game, he just might be willing to keep a 4th RB. Unfortunately Tucker won’t be an Eagle this year.

Tucker won’t be playing for anyone in 2015 with that kind of a timetable.

He wasn’t anything special, but Tucker had a nice combination of size and athletic ability. He was on the practice squad the past 2 years so he knew the offense and the Eagles obviously saw something they liked. Good luck to Tucker as he deals with the injury and tries to continue his pro career.

The Eagles have Kenjon Barner as the #4 RB right now. He played for Kelly at Oregon and has been around the league for a couple of years.

UDFA Raheem Mostert is on the roster, but seems like a longshot.

There is a report that the Eagles will add Villanova RB Kevin Monangai. We’ll find out soon enough if that is the case.

* * * * *

John Lovett was the DBs coach in 2013 and 2014, but things didn’t go well and he was moved to a pro scouting role this offseason. That won’t be the case anymore.

Makes total sense. Lovett is a college guy. He tried the NFL and it just didn’t work. Lovett has had plenty of success in college football so he’s wise to go back there.


Final Look Back – Great LBs

Posted: July 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 151 Comments »

Training Camp will be starting soon so we’ll have some actual fresh story lines to discuss. That means this is probably the last summer time piece. For PE.com, I wrote about the great Eagles LB corps of Seth Joyner, Byron Evans and William Thomas. For my money, they are one of the best LB units of all time.

I was thinking about LB interceptions the other day (because that’s the kind of stuff that floats through my brain, besides me and Megan Fox attending a Level 42 concert together of course). William Thomas is 9th in NFL history in INTs by a LB.  Seth Joyner is 19th. Willie T. had 27 picks, Seth had 24.

Go look at that list and you see tons of players from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Seth is the only player on the list whose career began in the 1980’s. Ray Lewis, Derrick Brooks, Donnie Edwards and Willie T. are the guys who began their careers in the 1990’s. That should give you an idea how special they were.

And Byron Evans had 13 career picks (in 113 career games). That’s a good total for a MLB. Jeremiah Trotter and DeMeco Ryans have combined for 15 picks in 273 career games.

INTs don’t define how good a LB is, but it struck me how unique the Eagles were to have a pair of great cover LBs in Joyner and Thomas. Not good, but great. Thomas began his college career as a DB. Joyner played SS for a few games due to injury while with the Cardinals. These guys were athletic, instinctive and skilled.

Would you believe that Willie T. had more career pass breakups than Lito Sheppard?

And it wasn’t all about coverage. The trio combined for 92.5 sacks. Think about that total for a second. These are 4-3 LBs that weren’t going after the QB on every play. But they still produced big numbers.

The trio combined for 50 forced fumbles. They could knock the crap out of you.

Run defense is a team stat, but these guys were part of one of the greatest run defenses of all time. In their first 1.5 years of playing together, they allowed one 100-yard rusher.

Why is this group so overlooked?

They never won a Super Bowl (as a trio), or even came close to playing in one. And they only played together for 2.5 years. They gave us 35 glorious games and the Eagles went 25-10 in them. Joyner left in free agency following the 1993 season and Evans tore up his knee in mid-1994. One funny note…the Eagles replaced Joyner with Bill Romanowski for 1994. That’s funny because Romo might be the only player I can think of who was more intense and angrier on the field than Joyner was.

Seth Joyner should be in the Hall of Fame, or at least in the mix for a spot. His numbers make him one of the most unique LBs in NFL history. William Thomas and Byron Evans are a notch below. They were outstanding players, but not at Joyner’s level.

I love writing about these players and doing research for pieces like this. It reminds me how lucky Eagles fans were to watch the Gang Green defense from 1989-1992. What a special group.

* * * * *

This is simply fantastic. Go check out the BGN story.



Posted: July 26th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 55 Comments »

Chip Kelly met with the local media a while back and answered a ton of questions. The media held the stories so they would have something to write about as a lead-up to the opening of Training Camp. Those stories are starting to break this morning and will continue for several days.

If you get tired of Chip Kelly stories quickly…this won’t be your favorite week.

First up is Jimmy Bama with the best non-story you’ll read all day. Players like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis and Frank Gore all have been represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Three of them were let go by the Eagles and Gore was involved in a weird “I’m an Eagle” vs “I’m a Colt” situation. Is Rosenhaus a problem for Kelly?

“I don’t really deal with agents,” Kelly said. “I think we have a real good relationship. We have a real good relationship with Drew I can tell you that. I think Drew has been very professional, very detailed, I think he gets a bad rap to be honest with you in my dealings with him. I think he’s been above board, straight ahead, detail-oriented, very organized and you know exactly where you stand. I think anybody will tell you that when you deal with Drew you know exactly where you stand. Wish more people acted like that to be honest with you.”

Rosenhaus represents more than five percent of the NFL’s players, many of whom are very good players. It certainly doesn’t behoove Kelly to speak poorly of Rosenhaus to a gaggle of reporters and potentially strain that relationship. As such, Kelly’s complimentary words on Rosenhaus don’t come as much of a surprise.

Kelly, not specifically talking about his former Rosenhaus players, noted that the players they cut had another common denominator. “They were all very expensive,” said Kelly. “I think that’s just the nature of contracts in this league. A lot of them are back-end loaded. I mean, then decisions have to be made. So guys are making 10, 11 million dollars a year, you have to make a decision on them. That’s just part of really how the league is set up. That’s why when people throw all these numbers out, that Player X signed a five-year $100 million contract when two years are guaranteed at 8 apiece, he never signed a five-year, $100 million contract. He’s never going to see that, so that’s just the way the league is.

“And there’s guys that… DeMarcus Ware had a very high contract, and he got let go at the end of his contract. Does that mean he’s a not a good football player? He’s a hell of a football player. He’s just, the pay for play at that point in time, was he worth X? The same thing happened with [Darrelle] Revis. Are you going to pay him, I don’t know what he was supposed to make, 20? I mean, those numbers really just got really high at the end of a lot of contracts.”

Still, when you look at all the names Rosenhaus represents who have had unceremonious exits with the Eagles since Kelly was hired, you do wonder. So let’s look at them all individually…

Go read the whole piece. Jimmy breaks down each situation thoroughly. As for his conclusion…I won’t spoil that, although I’ve already given you a key hint.

* * * * *

Roob wrote about Kelly dismantling the Eagles and why that happened.

In all, the Eagles said goodbye to nine regular starters, including big names like LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin, long-time Eagles like Todd Herremans and Trent Cole and recent Pro Bowlers like Nick Foles and Evan Mathis.

Players who started a staggering 658 games in an Eagles uniform in their career were either traded, released or allowed to sign elsewhere.

Why tear apart a 10-win team?

“I didn’t feel we were close at the end of the year,” Kelly said. “Ten and six, not going to the playoffs, is just like being 4-12. I understand it numbers wise, but it’s still…”

It’s still not good enough, Kelly decided.

It’s easy to realize you have to fix a lousy team. Kelly realized late in the season that he had to find a way to fix a pretty good team.

“I knew we had to get better as a team,” he said. “And I think in this league, it’s almost year-to-year. Teams don’t stay up or down.”

In other words, going 10-6 did not seem to Kelly like a stepping stone to a Super Bowl run.

So Sam Bradford replaced Foles. DeMarco Murray replaced McCoy. Nelson Agholor replaced Maclin. Byron Maxwell replaced Cary Williams.

We have discussed this premise a few times this offseason. The Eagles were a winning team. They were a good team. They were not a championship team. They didn’t have the potential to be great. You can try to tweak a good team for a while and hope you can put it over the top. That generally only works when you have a franchise QB to build around. And even then it isn’t a sure thing.

Kelly loved Nick Foles as a person, but just didn’t think he was ever going to be good enough to put the team over the top. That meant something had to be done at QB. There weren’t great options so Kelly made the risky trade for Sam Bradford, a player who does have a higher ceiling than Foles.

As for the rest of the moves, age and expense had a large role in most of them. Todd Herremans and Trent Cole were simply declining players. Trading Shady netted a potential stud LB and save the team money, which it then invested in a pair of bigger, stronger and faster RBs.

The one player the Eagles didn’t want to let go was Jeremy Maclin, but KC was willing to overpay for him so the Eagles let him walk and then drafted Nelson Agholor in the 1st round.

The changes in the secondary? I don’t think anyone had much of a problem with them.

The Eagles feel like a more talented team right now. Time will tell if they are a better team…if Kelly made the right moves. He certainly had the right intentions and there is logic to everything he did, but there are risks as well. We’ll just have to wait and see which risks pan out and which ones went wrong.

* * * * *

Mark Saltveit wrote about Kelly last week. He was challenging some perceived myths about Chippah.

— “Adult millionaire NFL stars won’t go for Chip Kelly’s “college boy” hard-work-and-hustle mentality.

This is the weakest myth of all, because it normalizes and encourages immature, self-destructive behavior by players. First of all, “adult” is a stretch, since NFL rookies are one year older than college kids, and most flush out before age 26 — especially those who spend their time nightclubbing and making reality TV shows.

More importantly, the best players in the NFL of any age — Darrelle Revis, Peyton Manning,Marshawn Lynch, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman — work their asses off, studying tape, learning new moves, and haunting gyms.

They’re millionaires many times over, but their goal isn’t to get rich. Those money-grubbers are the ones who disappear after their first big contract. Thereare people in the NFL who will coast on their talent and do just enough work to stay in the league and maintain their lifestyle. But Chip doesn’t want them on his team, and that’s just common sense. It will make it harder to find the  perfect players for his scheme, but to say that such players don’t exist is foolish.

I’ve got to disagree with Mark a bit here. Manning and Revis are all about money. Both guys have tried to max out every possible penny when they have had the chance. That isn’t to say they aren’t great players, but those two love their cash. I have never understood Manning’s obsession with being the highest paid player. Why not sacrifice some money and have the team spend it elsewhere? Tom Brady has done that a few times in his career.

As to Kelly and dealing with NFL players…complicated subject. Mark is right in pointing out there are plenty of high level guys that are grinders. They will work really hard regardless of who is coach. The question is really how coaches with college backgrounds will do with a team over the long term. Motivating and coaching men is different than motivating and coaching boys.

The most famous example of this is Lou Holtz. He went 33-12-3 in 4 years with NC State, including one ACC title and bowl appearances every year (back in an era when making a bowl actually meant something). Holtz left NC State to coach the NY Jets. One of the first things he did was write a fight song for the Jets. He wanted to bring some emotion to pro football. Holtz went 3-10 and was fired before the season was even over. He went to Arkansas and resumed a terrific college career.

One of the assistants on that Arkansas team was a young man named Pete Carroll. He has won big in college and the NFL. There is no question that college coaches can win in the NFL. Can they sustain success? Carroll is entering his 6th season with Seattle. Not many guys are left from the first couple of years so I doubt Carroll’s style/message are getting lost on anyone yet.

Carroll is seeing the tough side of the NFL as he has contract distractions with Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett. Carroll didn’t have that issue at USC. When one star left, he just replaced him with a new star. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the northwest.

Kelly has proven that he can coach in the NFL. The big question with his is whether he can put together a Super Bowl team. After that will be the question of whether he can sustain success. The one thing we know for sure at this point is that he has clearly shown he’s not Holtz/Steve Spurrier. Those guys could not handle the NFL. Chip can coach at any level.