Eagles Notebook

Posted: June 21st, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Comments Off on Eagles Notebook

The most interesting nugget from recent days is an update on Andre Dillard. The second-year offensive tackle is the front runner to protect Carson Wentz’s blind side so any news on Dillard is of interest.

Dillard’s biggest issue in 2019 was his ability to anchor and play with NFL strength. He got pushed around in pass protection more than you want to see.

It sounds like Dillard did something about that.

So LT is all set now and there is nothing to worry about.

It would be great if that were the case, but history says this news doesn’t always pan out. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to hear that Dillard has bulked up. That will help him with his struggles from last year. It also shows that he was aware of the problems and dealt with them in an honest, intelligent way.

Some players are delusional. They don’t want to admit when there is a problem. They starred in high school and college. NFL struggles don’t make sense to them. They assume the problems will magically go away.

Successful players are accountable. They acknowledge problems an deal with them.

The problem is that we hear stories every year about how a player has added weight or gotten stronger or worked on some part of his game. While some of those stories pan out, plenty don’t.

The good news here is that you’re not asking Dillard to fix something impossible. Adding bulk and adding muscle is common among young OL. Adjusting to the physicality of the NFL is a common issue.

It would certainly help if Dillard had a full, normal offseason, but that’s not the case this year. At least he does have veteran teammates to lean on so that he knows what to do and how to do it.

This offseason will tell us about which young players really wanted to make it. Tough, motivated players will work out on their own and find a way to address their weaknesses. Dillard is off to a good start.

*****

Sticking with the OL, it sounds like Brandon Brooks is doing everything he can to help Matt Pryor.

“I had a conversation with [Pryor] Monday after I got the MRI to confirm (the Achilles tear),” Brooks said. “‘Hey man, you’re going to have to step up. Don’t look to be me. Look to be you. Whatever that takes for you to get ready from a mental standpoint, a physical standpoint, I’m here for you. Anything you need, I’m willing to help. When you get out there, do what you do.’ I have a whole bunch of faith in him.”

It certainly sounds like everyone expects Pryor to have the first shot at the job. The Eagles have several young guys who should compete for the spot. I do not anticipate any trades or signings of veteran OL for now. The team wants to see what their young players can do.

*****

The weirdest story of recent days is this.

The strangest offseason in recent history continues to find ways to surprise us. Goedert wasn’t hurt so we can just laugh this off. Who knew South Dakota was more dangerous than South Philly?

*****

One of the hot stories is Jets star Jamal Adams pushing for a trade. He is one of the best safeties in the NFL, especially up around the line of scrimmage. Adams has a list of teams he would like to be dealt to. One of them is the Eagles.

Would the Eagles be interested? Not likely.

Of course the Eagles would love to have Adams. Who wouldn’t want a star DB? And Howie Roseman could talk to his old pal Joe Douglas about what he’s looking for, but Adams won’t come cheap. This makes for a fun idea, but it won’t be happening.

Adams would prefer to go to Dallas. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. He is a darn good player.

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Big Impact?

Posted: June 17th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 1 Comment »

Losing an outstanding player like Brandon Brooks is a blow to the Eagles. He is one of the best guards in the league and those are the kind of players you just don’t want to lose.

How big of a loss will this be?

Let’s look back to some previous OL injuries for an idea of what this could mean.

2004

The Eagles spent their first round pick on guard Shawn Andrews. They expected him to give them a dominant presence on the inside, to go with a terrific pair of OTs in Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan. Andrews looked great that summer and expectations were sky high for an offense that had Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens.

Andrews got hurt in the opener and missed the rest of the season. Veteran Jermane Mayberry took his old job back, starting 12 games. The team was loaded and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Andrews absence hurt the team in a couple of big games, but there was enough talent on the line and the overall team that the Eagles did just fine without Andrews.

2012

LT Jason Peters got hurt in the offseason so the Eagles signed Demetress Bell to replace him. Bell struggled mightily and only started five games that year. The Eagles finished 29th in scoring and won only four games that season. A lot of people will point to this as an example of just how much losing a stud OL can hurt a team.

Most people forget that Peters wasn’t the only blocker who got hurt. Jason Kelce got hurt in Week 2 and Dallas Reynolds took over for him. Reynolds had never played in an NFL game before that season. He was a marginal player (former UDFA). His lack of talent, experience and skill really showed for the first month. Eventually he got better, but he remained a below-average player.

The overall team had all kinds of talent and chemistry issues. Losing two stars on the OL was too much for that team to overcome.

2016

The Eagles got off to a 3-1 start. Life was good. Then RT Lane Johnson lost his appeal and had to sit out for 10 games. The Eagles replaced him with rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai, taken toward the end of the fifth round that year. Big V struggled mightily in the six games he started. The team went 2-8 in Johnson’s absence and that was likely the difference in them going 7-9 vs making the playoffs.

The overall roster was pretty good, but the combination of bad receivers, a banged up OL and a rookie QB was too much for the team to overcome.

2017

Peters got hurt at midseason and Big V got to play on the left side this time around. Big V was ready for action this time around, even though he wasn’t used to playing LT. He understood the playbook and the speed of the NFL.

Wentz was in Year 2 and the roster was greatly improved (Jeffery, Blount, Long, Robinson, Smith, Darby, Graham, Barnett, Clement, etc.). The Eagles were able to handle the loss of Peters and go on to win the Super Bowl.

2020

So what will the loss of Brooks mean this year? If you look at the years when the Eagles struggled, they didn’t have ideal rosters and rookie QBs started 22 of 32 games.

The Eagles have a good overall OL. Seumalo is above-average at LG. Kelce and Johnson are arguably the best at their positions in the league. LT is a mystery. Dillard could prove to be a solid young tackle or he could be a mess. We aren’t going to know that until we see him in action this year.

Wentz is a veteran and one of the best QBs in the league. Miles Sanders is an impact RB. Zach Ertz is an impact TE. The receivers are a work in progress, but DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor will bring serious speed to the table.

The DL should be very good, especially the DTs. The LBs are young, but athletic. They have good potential. The secondary has a chance to be seriously improved. The Eagles need Darius Slay to play like a stud CB and Jalen Mills to show he can be a good safety.

This roster is good enough to overcome the loss of a starting lineman, even a stud like Brooks.

The potential replacements for Brooks do not have ideal experience. Matt Pryor only started one game last year. Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta have played less than that. Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho are talented rookies, but both played OT in college.

I do think it helps that the Eagles can start looking at these guys in Training Camp. They will feed these players reps and see who looks best prepared to handle the job. Pryor will be entering his third season and has played in games. Herbig got a lot of practice time last season. The coaches seem to be high on him. Driscoll was good enough to be a mid-round pick. I had Tega Wanogho rated as a second round talent if healthy.

Any talk of gloom and doom is greatly exaggerated. Losing Brooks does hurt, but the Eagles have a good enough overall situation that they should be able to overcome this. The big problem is that the margin for error is that much smaller. Other injuries could prove to be too much. Or key players underachieving or showing their age.

Losing Brooks doesn’t mean the season is over, but it does mean plenty of other guys are going to have to play well to make sure the team wins and has the kind of season that is expected.

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The First Injury

Posted: June 16th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

We have been sitting around waiting for some Eagles news. Tonight we found out the truth in the old saying “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.”

Our first hard news in a while wasn’t good.

Ugh.

There were questions at LT, but the right side of the Eagles line was the best in football, with Jason Kelce in the middle, Brooks at RG and Johnson at RT. Now there will be questions on both sides.

Like I said, ugh.

First, let’s talk about what this means for the Eagles. Brooks started all 16 games last year, but he did miss some time. When he was out, Big V and Matt Pryor took his spot. Big V is gone, making Pryor the logical replacement.

Can Pryor get the job done? Jimmy Bama put up a Twitter thread showing the good and bad of Pryor.

https://twitter.com/JimmyKempski/status/1246402639102869505

Jimmy came up with reasonable conclusions here, but I would say with young players you need to focus on what they can do more than what they can’t. As they get more experience, they can improve on their weaknesses.

Think about how far Isaac Seumalo has come since he first got on the field. Player development is a real thing and is crucial to long term success.

Pryor has the size and strength to be an effective starting guard in the NFL. He has the potential to be a good run blocker. He shows moments of being a stud. Pass blocking is the big issue. That requires a mixture of skill and athleticism. Pryor doesn’t have great skill right now and he’s an average athlete at best.

Jeff Stoutland can coach up Pryor and develop him into an effective pass blocker. “Can” is the crucial word there. Obviously, there are no guarantees when it comes to young players. Stoutland is a big fan of Pryor’s and would likely push for his young guy to get a chance to show what he can do.

Nothing will be given to Pryor. Rookie Jack Driscoll was brought in to be the swing tackle, but could be a natural fit at guard. I previously compared him to John Welbourn, who was a terrific guard for the Eagles from 2000-2003.

Fellow rookie Prince Tega Wanogho played LT at Auburn. He has the size and physicality to move inside and play guard. I think the Eagles might prefer to keep him at OT because they need depth there.

Second year linemen Sua Opeta and Nate Herbig both impressed the Eagles enough to get roster spots as rookies. Opeta is powerful. He has okay size at 6-4, 301. He played outside in college, but is a better fit at G or C in the pros.

Herbig is big at 6-3, 338. Eagles coaches liked him quite a bit last year. Herbig could be an ideal fit at RG. The big problem is that he’s got no game experience. Herbig practiced all year, but never played in a game.

My guess is that the Eagles will focus on their young talent. They will want someone who is young and cheap to try to win the RG spot.

There are some other options.

The most interesting is the idea of Jason Peters signing with the Eagles to play RG. That feels highly unlikely, but it would be interesting to see what he could do in that role.

There are other players to look into.

I think the Eagles will focus on their own players. They like the young guys and want to give them a chance to show what they can do. The team hasn’t shown an “all-in” mentality this offseason. They have focused on young, athletic players.

At the same time, the Eagles believe in aggressively addressing the OL and DL. If they have doubts about the current players, they won’t hesitate to find the best option available.

*****

This injury is bad for the Eagles, but it really stinks for Brooks. He will turn 31 in August. He had injuries at the end of the past two seasons. Now he will miss all of 2020. It is hard to predict the future for him.

Brooks has high cap figures starting next season. He is in the best shape of his life and is one of the best guards in the league, but age, cost and injury concerns will be real factors to consider.

We’ll all be pulling for him to make a comeback. Brooks is the kind of player you really want to succeed.

We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Derek Barnett

Posted: June 15th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | Comments Off on Derek Barnett

The Eagles spent the 14th overall pick in 2017 on DE Derek Barnett, hoping he would give the team an impact pass rusher. Barnett helped the team win the Super Bowl in his rookie season, but he hasn’t developed into an impact rusher to this point.

Barnett is coming off his best season. He started 14 games, had 6.5 sacks, 2 FFs and 10 TFLs. Those were all career highs.

While that is encouraging, it is fair to expect more from the 14th overall pick. Luckily Barnett seems to have the same attitude. Rather than enjoying a quiet summer or resting on his best season, Barnett is working out with Jim Washburn. Mike Kaye wrote a good piece on the situation.

“He’s one of the finest young people that I’ve ever been around in my whole life, ever,” Washburn said. “He never makes an excuse. I’d say ‘I hurt your feelings, didn’t I?’ and he’d say ‘Wash, you’re not going to hurt my feelings. Say anything to me because you’re not going to hurt my feelings.’”

Some of you may not remember Jim Washburn. He is one of the best DL coaches in the last 20 years. He worked with Jim Schwartz in Tennessee and the results were impressive.

Washburn came to Philly back in 2011 and things weren’t quite so smooth. He got good production from his DL, but did not play well with others, so to speak. He said offensive things to DC Juan Castillo and created a divisive environment. Washburn was fired during the 2012 season.

If you can get him to mentor a player one-on-one, that’s great. Washburn is a DL guru, especially in the Wide 9.

Schwartz explains in this video how he and Washburn came up with the Wide 9 attack.

One of the things he emphasizes is that DEs aren’t just running around. They have very specific landmarks. Washburn can teach details like that to Barnett and help him to get to the QB more often.

I’m sure Chris Wilson and Philip Daniels taught the same ideas the past few years, but Washburn is a guru. He helped create the system and then coached it for a decade. He can teach that in his sleep.

Barnett shows real flashes. He just needs to put it all together and play at a high level on a consistent basis.

You can see in those clips that Barnett wins in a variety of ways. He’s not just a speed rusher. And Barnett does have a great motor. He’s never going to fail due to lack of effort.

It would be great to see Barnett have a breakout season. He’s healthy. He should be confident after coming off his best season. Now he’s getting tutored by an outstanding DL coach.

I’m excited to see how Barnett plays this year. If he is a stud, that’s great. If he flat lines, DE becomes a priority position for the Eagles heading into the 2021 offseason (assuming the world hasn’t ended by then).

*****

On a side note, I could listen to Schwartz tell football stories all day long. He has good stories to tell, but the delivery is just perfect.

I look forward to hearing some stories about the Eagles down the road.

I think.

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The Value of Changes

Posted: June 11th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 2 Comments »

I was watching an old Eagles game and saw an amazing stat. The team once went 31 games without scoring a first possession TD. That streak covered the final 12 games of 1992, all of 1993 and the first three games of 1994. Not one TD on an opening drive.

Yikes.

The Eagles offense was second in the league in first quarter points in 2017. They fell all the way to 31st in 2018. Last year they climbed up to 20th, hardly a strong figure.

When Rich Kotite was running the show in the early 90’s, the Eagles kept the same skill players, had basically the same OL and had the same coaching staff. I guess Kotite figured the problem would magically solve itself.

Doug Pederson saw the drop from 2017 to 2018. That didn’t lead to major changes. One year can be an anomaly and injuries did affect the team in 2018. When there were still issues in 2019, Pederson decided to take action.

Pederson came under criticism for his handling of the coaching situation (No changes…I mean several changes). Pederson drew flak for not hiring someone with the specific title of offensive coordinator. People weren’t thrilled with how the hiring search happened or how fast it happened.

The real key there is that Pederson was willing to change. He’s got a Super Bowl win on his resume. He’s considered a good offensive mind and innovative coach. Pederson could have tried to fix the situation on his own. Instead, he swallowed his pride and went looking for some outside help.

Pederson knew he had a good playbook and solid staff. He also knew that football is constanly evolving. You can’t dig your heels in and act like you’ve got all the answers. You must seek new ideas.

The Eagles hired Rich Scangarello, Andrew Breiner and Marty Mornhinweg to bring in new ideas. They are getting some Kyle Shanahan ideas from Scangarello. Breiner will bring a college outlook to things. Mornhinweg is a West Coast Offense guru and knows the pro passing game. He also spent time with the Ravens and saw their creative running attack.

I’m sure there will be an emphasis on first quarter points. The Eagles had a great formula in 2017, scoring early and playing with the lead as much as possible. That hasn’t happened enough over the past two years.

We’ll have to wait and see if the ideas work, but it is a good sign that Pederson acknowledges the issue and is willing to take action. Not all coaches do that.

Mike McCarthy let his offense get stale the last few years he was in Green Bay. He relied on the magic of Aaron Rodgers for things to work. Seattle is still built around the running game, despite the fact they have a great QB and do not have a great RB. That almost seems like criminal negligence. Good coaches make adjustments. They make changes.

Schematic changes can only do so much. You need the right players. Pederson and the Eagles made sure to add offensive talent this offseason. There is a lot more speed at receiver and that should make a difference. Jalen Hurts could give them a gadget player to mix in at times. The team is still considering adding a veteran RB to the mix.

It really will be interesting to see what all of this means in reality. Do the Eagles score more points early in games? Do they get more big plays? Does the offense move back toward the top of the league?

So how did the 1994 Eagles end that long, miserable streak? Rookie Charlie Garner made his NFL debut and ran for a TD on the opening drive. Speed and quickness to the rescue.

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