The First Depth Chart

Posted: August 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 99 Comments »

The Eagles play on Thursday night so they had to release the first depth chart of the season.

As Jeff points out, this was done by the PR staff and not the coaches. Now, that said, the PR staff has been watching practices and is bound to hear some things in the building. Don’t totally dismiss this just because it wasn’t officially done by the coaching staff.

Let’s talk about what sticks out.

Reuben Randle is listed as a starting WR over Chris Givens or Josh Huff. None of the trio has been so good that they locked up a starting gig alongside Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor. We don’t know for a fact Randle will get the nod over the others, but it is interesting to see him listed there for now.

Stefen Wisniewski is listed as the backup at C and RG. Interesting. Has he been so good they felt he had to be listed at both spots or have none of the third string C/OG’s played well enough to be listed as a second stringer? I’m curious to see where Wiz lines up initially. I don’t feel great about OG so I’d prefer him there, but the Eagles may feel differently.

The Eagles clearly like Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham at a similar level. They are essentially listed as co-starters (or should that be tri-starters?). It doesn’t matter who starts. The key will be watching how the snaps are divided. Is there a big drop-off from the starters to the third guy? Alex McCallister and Marcus Smith are listed as the top backups. I actually think Bryan Braman and Steven Means should be listed ahead of them. We’ll see what happens on Thursday evening.

CB is kinda wild. Ron Brooks is listed as a starter. Eric Rowe is listed as a third teamer. And JaCorey Shepherd is on the fourth team. Last summer Shepherd had a real chance to be the team’s nickelback. Right now he might be on the roster bubble. You wonder what is up with his knee. Is he all the way back? Some of you are worried about Rowe. Should he move to S? Can he play NB if needed there? The Eagles still love his upside at CB. He’s stay there for now. He could play S, as he did for most of his career at Utah. I don’t think he could play NB in the NFL.

I’m also curious about the OLBs. I want to see if Quinten Gause plays weak or strong LB. The same is true for Myke Tavarres. We know the starters, but the backups are still a mystery. Who can play? Where will they play?

Just because some people are listed at a given spot doesn’t mean the team feels strongly about that player. Last year on the opening depth chart the backup RG was John Moffitt, who didn’t make the team. Rookie Jordan Hicks was behind Brad Jones. Earl Wolff was the top backup at S. A lot changed in the ensuing weeks. One of Chip Kelly’s sayings that really was true…the players set the depth chart. The coaches put something together based on the offseason, but what happens in games and at Training Camp really decides who plays when and where and how long.

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Jordan Matthews will be out a couple of weeks. The hope is to have him back for the third preseason game.

This will hurt the effectiveness of the passing game for the next 2 weeks, but could be a bit of a blessing in disguise. There will be extra reps for the young receivers, something that can be invaluable when trying to earn a starting job or a roster spot.

We know what Matthews can do. Randle, Huff, Givens, TJ Graham, Cayleb Jones, Paul Turner and Marcus Johnson are still mysteries.

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In his PC, Doug Pederson offered a lot of praise for LT Matt Tobin. I’m interested to see how he does in the game. I wasn’t sure Tobin would make the team, but he’s played well enough to be the backup at LT. The preseason games will be huge for him. Tobin has to show he deserves a spot. He also has to convince the coaches of how they should use him. Is he active on gamedays? Would you dare put him at LT in a real game?

Speaking of OL, the consensus is that rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai has struggled this spring and summer. Right now, he would be a long shot to even make the team. That’s what the practice squad is for. He’s big and has good feet. This is a guy you work with. He has good upside. Vaitai does have to play well enough in the games to make the team want to keep him around. 5th round picks don’t get several years. They have to show something to the coaches.

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Say You

Posted: August 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 52 Comments »

Rookie OG Isaac Seumalo has been quiet this summer. He missed the OTAs so there wasn’t a huge buzz around him coming into Training Camp. People were curious about how he’d perform. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Seumalo got off to a slow start. He went from Skyping with Jeff Stoutland in the spring to blocking Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan in the summer. Big difference.

Les Bowen has a good piece on the progress Seumalo has made in recent days.

But asking a third-rounder to challenge for a starting spot at guard really doesn’t seem too outrageous, and maybe it will happen, as Seumalo starts to get his feet under him, both literally and figuratively. Right now he’s running with the second team at left guard, behind 2015 starter Allen Barbre. It doesn’t help that left guard is the only offensive line position Seumalo never started at for Oregon State.

“The biggest thing is balance,” Seumalo said, when asked what Stoutland is working on the most with him. “Pass-protection, that’s what it’s all about. Those little details, to do with your feet and your hands and where your eyes are.”

Stoutland doesn’t always come off as the epitome of patience during drills.

“He’s a man. He coaches us hard . . . but I know he cares for us. I feel in good hands,” Seumalo said. “Sometimes you gotta kinda block out the extra noise and take the coaching, but once you do that – not take things too personal, just know you’ve got to get better.”

Center Jason Kelce said the tools are there for Seumalo to blossom.

“He’s got great fundamentals and things to work with,” Kelce said. “He’s got really good feet. He plays with balance, great hands . . . He’s gotten better and better through camp. You see him shooting his hands better, in better position. He’s starting to understand things. A lot of it comes with just kind of calming down and understanding the situation. Obviously, he wasn’t here through OTAs and all that stuff. As you get more accustomed to the speed of the game and everything, things start to slow down.”

My biggest takeaway from the piece is that Seumalo has the right attitude. He is willing to take tough coaching. He understands that all the yelling and harsh words are simply tools to communicate with and motivate players. Seumalo is a coach’s son, so this isn’t new to him.

The Eagles are set at RG with Brandon Brooks. They still have Allen Barbre as the LG. Stefen Wisniewski has been a pleasant surprise and could challenge for the LG spot. At the least, he appears to be solid depth. Seumalo has a few more weeks to make his case for a move up the depth chart. Preseason games will be a huge opportunity for him.

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From Sunday’s practice, here is Jimmy Bama.

Steven Means had another nice day playing with the two’s in place of Marcus Smith, who is out with a concussion. He had a sack, and was otherwise disruptive. After practice, Jim Schwartz said, “Pun intended, he means business.” Schwartz has been critical of players, so when he praises one it means something… or maybe he’s just trying to motivate Smith, which seems like a lost cause at this point. If camp ended today, I’m not sure how the Eagles could justify keeping Smith over Means.

• We haven’t mentioned him much, but Brandon Graham has quietly had a good camp. His pressures are beginning to pile up.

Matt Tobin has filled in for Jason Peters at LT whenever Peters has decided to take it easy, and he has played well. Tackle seems like a much better fit for Tobin, who is quicker than he is strong. Tobin was not good last year at guard. Maybe it’s because he shouldn’t have been playing guard.

• The Eagles defense showed a number of 3-3-5 looks in third and long situations. The offense struggled against it all day.

Interesting point about Schwartz openly praising Steven Means. That young man has gotten everyone’s attention with his consistently good play.

It is sometimes easy to overlook guys like Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham. They’re expected to be disruptive. You focus more on disappointments (Marcus Smith) or an unknown who is playing well (Means). I’m glad both Curry and Graham are making their share of plays. The defense needs those guys to shine if it is going to be a high level unit.

Tobin has always looked more natural at OT, especially at LT. Playing on the left side vs the right side can make a real difference to some players. I don’t know why he seems more comfortable at OT than OG. He wasn’t a 3-year starter at LT or anything like that. We’ll see how he does there on Thursday night.

Jim Johnson used 3-3-5 looks when he wanted to get creative with his Nickel D. That’s when he would put an athletic rusher at MLB (Jevon Kearse, ND Kalu) and have them rush, blitz or cover. Could really be effective at times.

Make sure to read Jimmy’s piece for his informative take on the PK situation. Sounds like Sturgis has a solid lead right now.

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Jeff McLane had a couple of good notes from Saturday that I didn’t want to miss.

Jim Schwartz isn’t a dogmatic defensive coordinator. He’s willing to give his players some leeway. For example, several of the defensive ends have occasionally been rushing from a standup position. Connor Barwin, Steven Means and rookieAlex McCalister have been the primary stand-up guys. Barwin and Means were, of course, brought to the Eagles as 3-4 outside linebackers. Barwin is versatile and can rush just as effectively from a three- or four-point stance. But he might have more comfort with standing up. Most defensive ends like to get in a crouch like sprinters so they can explode off the line. Former Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn liked his wide-nine ends to get off from a four-point. Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Smith have been mostly rushing from a three-point stance.

Chip Kelly wasn’t much of a trick play coach. There was the “Swinging Gate” two-point play that failed and a few woeful plays that involved Brad Smith that weren’t quite what you’d call trick plays. Andy Reid loved to have a trick play or two in his game plan. Doug Pederson has worked on several since the spring, although who knows if they’ll ever see the light of day. One worked to perfection today – although it was set up to succeed. Daniel handed off to running back Kenjon Barner, who flipped to the end-around-faking Rueben Randle, who threw back to Daniel, who was running a sideline route the other way. Touchdown. Golf clap.

That first point about DEs and their stance doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can be to certain players. You have to understand that players are creatures of habit. If they get comfortable with doing something one way, it can become ingrained in their mind that they have to do that. It is smart for the coach to let them use different stances. The point isn’t for everyone to look the same. You want to figure what makes each player perform the best.

Trick plays are a useful tool and it was very surprising how little Chip Kelly used them. It is good to see the Eagles practicing them. The real test will be to see how often Doug Pederson calls them. Also, will he keep them in the playbook when they don’t work ideally the first time they’re used.

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That was the update yesterday from Les. We’ll see what happens.

It doesn’t sound like 30 other teams are beating down Tulloch’s door. You wonder if his agent leaked the Eagles note to Schefter to see if that would get another team to be more aggressive.

It would be nice to have Tulloch on the team, but only if he was comfortable as a part-time player. Jordan Hicks needs to be on the field. You could mix Tulloch in here and there. You could certainly use him on short-yardage and goal line situations. And he would be great insurance for Hicks. But Hicks needs to be the starting MLB.

*****

I don’t talk a lot about baseball, but I was really happy to see Ichiro get his 3000th hit over the weekend. He’s had an amazing career, especially when you consider he was 27 when he came to MLB. I saw this note on Twitter and thought it was too good not to share.

Makes me like the guy all the more.

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Hope Isn’t a Very Good Strategy

Posted: August 7th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 89 Comments »

That title is a quote that comes from Jim Schwartz’s morning press conference. I knew he would be a good coach, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy listening to him talk to the media.

Schwartz was asked about physical practices. He praised Doug Pederson, an offensive coach, for letting the team have practices with hitting and tackling. Schwartz was pointing out that you can’t expect to have a tough, physical team if you don’t hit in practice. At that point you’re hoping your players become tough and physical. Hope isn’t a very good strategy. The way to make sure you have a physical team is by having them practice physical football.

Someone tried to ask Schwartz about his expectations for this week’s preseason game. Schwartz would have none of that. He’s focused on this afternoon’s walk-through practice. Schwartz wants his players to stay on task. Deal with right now. Forget about next week. If players focus on the little things, it will show up in a big way. Have a good practice. Do a good job in your classroom meeting. Do a good job with weightlifting. And on and on and on. You don’t want players picking and choosing when to pay attention or when to really give good effort.

Schwartz has talked a lot this summer about the need for consistency. This ties right in to staying focused and dealing with the here and now. Do a good job of whatever it is you’re in the middle of. Success becomes a habit. Things may seem unimportant to a player, but the coaches have a reason for everything the players do. Little things can make a big difference. The best players embrace the details and strive for consistency.

The media asked Schwartz about Stephen Tulloch. Schwartz said it is up to Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas and their guys to constantly be looking for help for the team. He wouldn’t say he wanted Tulloch or got involved in that situation at all. Schwartz, having been a head coach, knows the roster is a very fluid thing in the summer, especially for a team that is in the midst of changes. He talked about the personnel guys looking at free agents, possible roster cuts and also potential cap casualties. Schwartz went to far as to say if the team can find a better defensive coordinator, let’s hire him. His goal is to build the best defense possible. He’s got good talent to work with, but help is always welcome.

Schwartz did offer praise to backup LBs Najee Goode and Joe Walker. He called Goode a young veteran and seems confident in him as the top backup LB. Schwartz said Walker is doing a good job of running the defense (getting players lined up and making calls). Just the other day Schwartz would not praise Jordan Hicks for that same thing, but he explained that Walker is a rookie so that makes things different.

DBs Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe and Blake Countess all were discussed. Schwartz loves Mills confidence and the fact he plays with the right attitude. CBs have to be cocky (borderline delusional) and they have to want the challenge of playing on an island. Mills does that. Schwartz likes Rowe’s size and physicality. It is critical for CBs in this scheme to come up and hit/tackle. Rowe will do that. Schwartz praised Countess for being a tough, physical player.

Someone asked about Steven Means. Schwartz praised his effort and attitude. He also talked about Means having good length and athleticism. He told the media to go talk to the TEs about Means since he has given them fits in some blocking battles.

Schwartz wants to praise his guys, but at the same time doesn’t want them to hear that and start patting themselves on the back. He wants to keep them hungry so they’ll have a chip on their shoulder. The best defenses play with emotion and attitude. Some of that comes naturally, but some of it is created and fueled by the coaching staff. Schwartz is going to push his guys relentlessly. He has an idea of how good they can be, but he can also look at recent history and know how bad they were. He’s not interested in making friends or keeping his players happy. Schwartz wants them to play with an edge and he’s going to do everything he can to make that happen.

He mentioned that the defense had a good morning practice, but then seemed to realized he just praised his guys and quickly followed that by saying that it is their job to play well so let’s not make a big deal of it.  I love that. Keep pushing them. Keep needling them. Push the defense to be the kind of unit they can be if they’ll start to play consistently well.

Don’t hope this group becomes a good defense. Do everything you can to make them a good defense.

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Talking to Tulloch

Posted: August 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 83 Comments »

We’ve speculated about this for a while, but it now seems to be happening.

Could be a good move.

The Eagles appear to have a good set of starting LBs, but depth is a major question. Adding Tulloch to the mix could help in a big way. Right now Jordan Hicks is the MLB and it doesn’t sound like anyone is challenging him for that role. Tulloch could come in and right away battle for the job. Tulloch knows the system well. He played for Jim Schwartz in both Tennessee and Detroit.

It is possible that Schwartz could give Tulloch a look at WLB or SAM. He’s smart enough to play any LB spot. The problem for Tulloch is that age has started to catch up with him. He is now 31 and has played in 147 NFL games. Tulloch missed most of the 2014 season with an ACL injury. He wasn’t 100 percent last year and was basically a 2-down LB. The Lions had to wait for Tulloch to get healthy this spring before they could officially release him.

I wrote about Tulloch as a target back in June.

The Eagles were smart to take a look at the young guys. They’ve had a chance to see Joe Walker, Myke Tavarres, and Quentin Gause in action. Those guys have had good moments, but none of them has looked so good you would want them on the field in 2016. Tulloch has his issues, but he is a proven veteran who could be an effective starter.

I’m surprised that teams in need of starting LB help haven’t gone after Tulloch more aggressively, but that may be a hint about his health and his future.

One thing you can say about Jim Schwartz…his former players sure like him. Just ask Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Nigel Bradham and now possibly Tulloch.

Stay tuned.

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Opportunity Knocks

Posted: August 6th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 23 Comments »

Marcus Smith moved to DE this offseason. Unfortunately, he didn’t bring good fortune with him. Smith hasn’t stood out at his new position. Today he suffered a concussion that could really hurt his chances to make the roster.

The former 1st round pick got a new lease on life when Doug Pederson took over as coach and hired Jim Schwartz to run the 4-3 defense. The new staff hoped playing in a simpler, more aggressive system would bring out the best in Smith. Based on all the practice reports, that simply hasn’t happened. This staff won’t feel any loyalty to Smith. He either earns a roster spot or he doesn’t.

The concussion could keep him out a few days or a couple of weeks. Time is crucial for Smith, who needs to show he deserves a spot.

With Smith out now, there is a chance for another backup DE to move up the depth chart. Steven Means has played well in recent days and is doing what Smith couldn’t…getting everyone to notice him. Jimmy Bama shared his take on Means from today.

Steven Means showed well during this drill. He blew up a running play to his side five yards in the backfield, but could not make the tackle in the end zone, as he was still being blocked. He stuck with the play and was able to bring down Byron Marshall, who did a good job at least wiggling his way to about the half yard line before Means could bring him down. After the play, one of the players on the sideline yelled out, “I see you, Means!” Throughout camp, Means has been playing RDE with the third team D. Today he got reps with the twos after Marcus Smith sustained a concussion. Means has clearly been better than Smith, in my opinion.

Means was signed to the active roster in early December of last year. He’s bounced around the NFL (TB, BAL, HOU, PHI), but hasn’t been good enough to stick anywhere. Maybe he has finally found the right defense for him. He is 6-3, 260 and athletic. He had a 38.5 inch vertical jump at his Pro Day. That shows explosion and that’s critical to being effective as a Wide 9 DE. You must fire off the ball and get into the backfield.

The Eagles have 3 outstanding DEs. Bryan Braman is mainly a STer, but can come off the edge and be effective as a role player. The 5th and final spot is open. Means is making his case for the job. Rookie Alex McCallister has a lot of potential, but must get bigger and stronger. Means has outplayed him to this point. There is a long way to go before we know what will happen at the bottom of the roster, but Means has done a good job of showing he deserves serious consideration.

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Tim McManus has an update on the kicker battle.

9:55 — Caleb Sturgis and Cody Parkey take turns kicking field goals. Sturgis has been more accurate overall, but in this instance has one bang off the upright and out. He’s able to connect from 50-plus yards out a moment later, however, while Parkey’s try comes up short and right.

Parkey was terrific in 2014. Sturgis was pretty good last year. This is a legitimate battle between two talented kickers. FGs are going to be the key, but KOs in preseason games will also play a part in determining which guy wins the job.

10:18 — Jalen Mills hasn’t stood out as much since the pads have come on, but looks good here as he breaks up a pass intended for Chris Givens down the left side that’s intercepted by Blake Countess. Jaylen Watkins nearly comes up with a pick a beat later, which would have been his second of the day. With both Jenkins (hamstring) and Rodney McLeod (personal reasons) out, Watkins has been getting some first-team looks at safety along with Ed Reynolds and Chris Maragos and is acquitting himself pretty well.

Mills was quiet for a bit, but it sounds like he has picked things up the past couple of days. There is nothing unusual about a rookie having some ups and downs as he goes through Training Camp. It is encouraging that Mills seems to be coming back around.

I’m curious about the backup Safeties. Watkins and Reynolds have talent. But each of them has one glaring weakness…tackling. That just happens to be arguably the most important thing for a Safety playing behind the Wide 9 front. I hope both players have made big strides in this area, but I won’t believe it until I see them in a preseason game.

*****

Good stuff from Jeff McLane on MLB Jordan Hicks.

— That being said, the Eagles’ run defense had a strong outing – particularly middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. He shot into the backfield during a “thud” period and wrapped up Sproles for a loss. Later, Hicks shed guard Stefen Wisniewski at the second level and stopped Barner. It’s been said before, but if Hicks can stay healthy the Eagles defense will be that much better off. The first team unit was without safeties Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring) and Rodney McLeod (excused to attend a family funeral). A rotation that consisted of Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins, Chris Maragos and Blake Countess took their spots.

Hicks is critical to the defense for a few reasons. First, he’s got the brains to be a good MLB. He picked up the complex 3-4 very quickly last year. Figuring out the Wide 9 and 4-3 should be easier than that. Hicks is tough and athletic, meaning he can play the run and cover well. He’s not a 250-pound thumper that struggles when dealing with speedy athletes.

Hicks is also a playmaker. He picked off 2 passes and broke up 3 others. He forced a fumble and recovered 3 others. Finding a MLB who can do more than just tackle can be hugely beneficial to a defense.

McLane also noticed Ron Brooks, who hasn’t gotten much attention recently.

Back to the first team defense, cornerback Ron Brooks stopped Burton with an open field tackle. He had several of those today. Brooks is still playing opposite McKelvin with the first team defense. It might be time to start considering the possibility that he may start the season there. Bradford connected with Jordan Matthews when the slot receiver took corner Aaron Grymes to school. They combined for a 20-yard-plus play another period later. Tight end Zach Ertz had the catch of the day when he extended for a Daniel BB.

I thought Brooks got reps with the 1’s in the spring mostly because he knew the scheme. It seems more and more like he’s genuinely impressed the coaches. I still have a hard time buying him as a starter, but we’ll see what happens.

*****

You love the assistant coaches and players interacting like this. Practice can be long and hard. Summer days are brutally hot. Little things like this break up the monotony and bring some fun to the day. It also gets the competitive juices flowing and that can help players.

*****

You might have thought the Eagles would add a RB just to help eat up reps, but the coaches seem to genuinely like that group of players. WR is a different story. The coaches aren’t sure of much beyond Jordan Matthews. They’ll keep looking around.

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