Understanding the Offseason

Posted: February 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 316 Comments »

The Eagles must spend their first 3 picks on defense!!! They just have to. Anyone who saw that defense this year knows the only answer is to load up on defense. Right?

Wrong.

The offseason starts in early March with free agency. This is when teams try to fix clear holes in their roster with immediate solutions. You don’t build through free agency, but you have to use it to plug holes. There are always going to be roster issues that need to be addressed. Maybe a draft pick didn’t pan out as expected. Maybe there was an injury late in the season to a key starter that will carry over to the following season. Retirement/age or salary issues can force a team to make cuts, which open up starting jobs. Free agency is a way of repairing the roster.

The draft is all about long term thinking and roster building. You cannot go into a draft thinking “We must address this, this, this and that.” There are some occasions when a team has to force a pick because free agent plans didn’t work out, but even that isn’t recommended.

The best teams focus on talent when it comes to the draft.

Let’s not turn this into a debate on semantics. If 2 players are equally rated, of course you will take the one who fits a need. If one player is rated slightly lower and the need is great enough, you can make an exception in that case. The point isn’t to go into the draft thinking “We must come away with players at these positions” but rather to go find good players you believe in.

Finding the right guys is more important than filling the right positions.

The Dallas Cowboys fielded one of the worst defenses in the history of football in 2013. They added some help prior to the draft, but not much. Then they spent their 1st round pick on an OL, Zach Martin. He stepped in at RG as a rookie and played at an All-Pro level. That helped the offense to play better. That helped the run game to become dominant. That helped the offense to stay on the field and keep the defense off it. That helped Dallas go from 8-8 to 12-4.

Most people were screaming for Dallas to draft defensive help. It was the obvious need. Instead they showed great discipline and went with the best player.

The Eagles had the best secondary in the NFL in 2002. And then they turned around and spent their top 3 picks on DBs (Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis and Sheldon Brown). Andy Reid, Jim Johnson and Tom Heckert knew the secondary was aging. They had 3 draft prospects they liked and drafted them. Those guys made the transition from Bobby and Troy a seamless one. They also were a big reason the Eagles went to the Super Bowl in 2004.

I was shocked when those picks were announced. I just knew the Eagles would draft a WR or maybe a stud LB. Maybe a DT to pair with Corey Simon or a young TE. DBs? No way. But the Reid and Heckert made the right call.

Every human being on Earth and even people as far away as Pittsburgh will tell you that the Eagles need defensive help. No one disputes that.

The Eagles need to focus on free agency and trades with finding immediate help for the secondary. I do think they will spend draft picks as well, but those players will be for the future, not 2015. If the Eagles are looking for a starting CB at pick 20, then 2015 is not going to be the kind of season I want it to be.

I’m not saying a rookie can’t play his way into the lineup. Obviously you love when that happens. You don’t want to be counting on a rookie to solve a big problem. That’s when you are in trouble. Even a really talented rookie is still a rookie. He’s going to make rookie mistakes. You’re better off with a veteran starter if that is possible.

Both free agency and the draft are critical to building a championship roster. The Pats don’t win a Super Bowl without great picks like Brady, Wilfork, McCourty, Collins, Edelman, etc. or key signings like Revis, Ninkovich, Browner, Blount, etc.

The Eagles will want to sign free agents to help the defense and if that goes right they can draft the players they want rather than focusing on needs.

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Staff Shuffle

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 177 Comments »

The Eagles made some staff moves on Tuesday night.

Matt Harper will move from Asst STs coach to Asst DBs coach. He replaces Todd Lyght, who moved on to Vanderbilt. Harper was a Safety for Oregon and will mostly work with Safeties with the Eagles so that sure seems like a good fit.

Harper’s old job will go to Michael Clay, who served as the defensive quality control coach last year.

Clay’s old job will go to Stephen Thomas. He was the ILB coach for Princeton the past 3 years. He coached at Cortland, Delaware and Southern Miss as well.

* * * * *

The most interesting move is the hiring of Joe Pannunzio. He served as Alabama’s Director of Football Operations for the past 4 years.

The Eagles haven’t announced this move yet. The word broke from sources in Alabama.

Pannunzio has an interesting background.

He was at the University of Miami as TEs coach for a few years. The OL coach was Jeff Stoutland. And this is when Miami was accused of some major NCAA violations. Alabama ended up hiring both Stoutland and Pannunzio despite the allegations. Remember, Bama had already hired Ed Marynowitz when he had the NCAA checking him out.

And Pannuzio is no saint. Check out what college president F. King Alexander said about him.

“You must understand that in 2005 when I was president at Murray State, I fired our football coach, Joe Pannunzio, because of numerous incidents that occurred in our program under him that were quite bad,” Alexander said. “Well, Pannunzio immediately was hired by Miami, and he’s one of the coaches who’s been prominently mentioned by Shapiro in the current scandal. He’s now the head of football operations at Alabama.”

Wow.

Pannunzio was named in the damning Yahoo! report as someone who, while an assistant coach at Miami, “had a close relationship with Shapiro and facilitated the booster having improper contact with recruits.”  Shapiro refused to speak on or off the record regarding the Pannunzio allegations uncovered by Yahoo!.

Another former Miami assistant, Jeff Stoutland, is also on Nick Saban‘s Alabama staff, serving as the Tide’s offensive line coach after being hired in January.

Saban addressed Thursday the two new members of the program allegedly involved in the South Beach scandal, and said the two were thoroughly vetted prior to their hirings.

“I know what goes on in this program and I know that we do things correctly,” Saban said. “We do have people in this organization, who worked there (at Miami). Before those people were ever hired here we do an NCAA check to make sure they pass all compliance criteria and that they don’t have any red flags relative to compliance history.

“We certainly did that in both of these cases. Now, if any of these people had any wrongdoing, I’m sure the NCAA will investigate it in due time and, if they did anything wrong, I’m sure they will get the appropriate punishment, which we would do if we had any internal problems in our organization. But we’re going to continue and control and manage what we do in our organization and do it correctly, and that’s basically all we can be concerned about.”

Clearly Nick Saban had no reservations about hiring people that pushed the rules ( or flat out broke them). Chip Kelly seems pretty open to it as well.

If Pannunzio can help the Eagles to find and develop talent, I’m not worried about some NCAA infractions. It does make for an interesting pattern, though.

As for Pannunzio’s biggest claim to fame…

Good eye for talent right there. Graham was a basketball player at Miami until his Senior year.

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More Beefcake

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 208 Comments »

We can argue about a lot of different things when it comes to the offseason. How aggressive should the Eagles be in drafting a QB? How many DBs should they add? Would it be okay to take a RB early? And so on. One thing the team must do is add some quality young offensive linemen.

Evan Mathis isn’t your typical 33-year old OG. He is in great shape and he doesn’t have the usual wear and tear because he has only started 78 games in his career. But he is still 33 and that means age is starting to become a factor, whether his career ends in 2015, 2016 or 2017.

There is nothing normal about Jason Peters. He just turned 33 and might be in the best shape of his life. But again…age is an issue.

Todd Herremans is the most normal of the trio, since he isn’t a freak athlete and has been a starter for almost a decade. His body is wearing down a bit. 2015 could be his final season.

There is no need to panic, but the Eagles do need some youth in the mix at OL. Matt Tobin showed potential in 2014, but also struggled at times. He can get better now that he’s got a full offseason to work on the holes in his game.

When Jimmy Bama put together his mock, he had the Eagles taking OL in the 3rd, 4th and 7th rounds. Some of you didn’t like that, but there is definitely an argument to be made for something like that.

The Eagles have tried to develop some young talent in the last couple of years.

Matt Tobin
Michael Bamiro
Dennis Kelly

Bamiro is gone. Kelly failed to impress last year and is a holdover from the Reid era. Tobin is a UDFA who can run block, but is highly inconsistent in pass protection.

Right now the backup OL under the age of 28 are:

Julian Vandervelde
David Molk
Josh Andrews
Kevin Graf
Tobin
Kelly

Molk played fairly well in 2014 and is fine for backup C. Vandy is a backup G/C type, but I haven’t seen starting potential from him. Andrews lists at OG on the current roster, but might best fit at C.

Graf has RT potential, but isn’t a good athlete.

Tobin is versatile and young, so he has a good shot for a roster spot. This will be a make-or-break offseason for Kelly. He must show real progress. He’s only 25 so you’d love him to prove worthy of keeping.

The Eagles should try to draft a couple of OL. One could come as early as the 1st round. There’s no need to force a pick, but if the right guy is on the board, don’t be afraid to take him, even though he’ll most likely sit for a year.

So let’s talk about what Chip Kelly will want in an OL.

OT – Should be 6-5 to 6-8. Needs good feet so he can pass protect. Must have long arms, big hands. Can have thin, athletic frame or can be more of a massive guy as long as he has the necessary athleticism. Due to the presence of Lane Johnson, there is no need for the player to definitively be a RT or LT. Johnson has proven to be a good NFL RT, but has the potential to slide over and replace Peters when he retires.

OG – Should be 6-3 to 6-5. Must be able to pull and get to the outside. Must be able to block on the 2nd level (LB area). Long arms/big hands not as critical, but still desired. Athleticism is more important than bulk. Ideal OG would be about 305. Stout enough to anchor in pass pro, but light enough to block well on the move.

OC – Should be 6-1 to 6-4. Must be smart, good communicator and natural leader. Athleticism is critical. Eagles like OC to be able to pull and get outside on run plays, which isn’t common. Ability to play with good leverage is critical. Must be able to get under the pads of the NT/DT, who is likely to be much bigger.

The Eagles need general depth. They need talent to develop for the future. They can spend early picks or could use mid and even late round picks. There is no set formula on what they need to do.

I’m still studying prospects so it is too early to throw out a bunch of names of who might fit. One thing to keep in mind is that Kelly loves versatile guys. Look for someone who has played multiple spots. Or maybe look for an OT that played OG in an all star game. Things like that.

Tyler Aston has written a few OL scouting reports for us. His take on Pitt star TJ. Clemmings is now posted over at ScoutsNotebook. That is the full report (much more detail, expected round/value). Here is Tyler’s take on Clemmings and the Eagles.

Fit with the Eagles: TJ Clemmings is a powerful and athletic blocker who profiles well as a fit for the Eagles. He is a bit raw, having made the switch from defense just two years ago, but has a very high ceiling. He is an ideal candidate to play RG for the Eagles next year and can transition to RT down the line. He will also have to transition from a power run scheme to zone blocking, but seems to be intuitive and has a skill set should ease the transition.

The Eagles are a running team. Adding a dominant run blocker like Clemmings would definitely make some sense. Make sure go read the full scouting report.

* * * * *

I never posted notes from Day 3 of the Senior Bowl. I traveled that day and was wiped out the next couple of days.; Since getting back I’ve been watching the practice footage that I DVR’d while down in Mobile. The TV feed shows you some stuff you can’t see from the bleachers. I’ve also been watching some footage from PE.com and the great stuff they have.

I will be posting a detailed practice overview in the next day or two. I want to give notes, but also context. Take TJ Clemmings for example. He struggled at times in Mobile. But he also showed his potential. He didn’t light the place up like many of us expected, but his issues weren’t anything we didn’t already know about. That might be different from another player who struggled and had some parts of his game exposed.

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Humble Pie Time

Posted: February 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 83 Comments »

Seattle is the cockiest team in the NFL (and I think they would be the first to tell you that). They got a big piece of humble pie by losing the Super B0wl.

That theme carried over to today, as a couple of big news items broke. Johnny Manziel is going to be Johnny Rehab for the next 28 days (or however long rehab goes these days). I don’t know what to make of this. Does Johnny really have that serious of a drinking problem or is this a PR move? This could be his attempt to show the world that he’s matured…something along the lines of “I’m going to rehab so you can now take me seriously. I’m a changed man.”

I have never met Manziel and I don’t have any inside sources on him so I can only speculate. This move feels awkward to me. Does rehab make you more mature? If you read about Manziel going back several years, his issues seem to have a lot more to do with maturity than alcohol (or drugs). Think about him standing on stage at the draft and doing his money hand sign. That had nothing to do with drinking, but everything to do with him being a major idiot.

The ultra-cocky QB who was the king of college football and supposed savior of the Cleveland Browns is now closer to rock bottom than the top.

If Cleveland decides that enough is enough and they want to deal Manziel, should the Eagles be interested? Obviously Manziel would go for a lot less than the 1st round pick the Browns invested in him. Based on what I know, I would not want to deal for Manziel. He’s just not a player I believe in. Chip Kelly recruited him to Oregon and would be able to talk to a lot of people around Manziel. He would be able to make a well-informed decision. I would trust Chip. If he felt the risk was worth the reward…

My guess is that Cleveland keeps Manziel and tries to see if the new humbler, more focused version can actually play.

* * * * *

Warren Sapp is the worst NFL analyst on TV. Or “was”, I should say. The NFL Network has fired him after an incident in which Sapp was soliciting a prostitute and also accused of assault.

Good riddance.

Sapp was a complete jackass and a constant embarrassment to the NFL Network. I have no idea how that network felt he was worth keeping around this long. We can all disagree with a player or analyst. They often drive me crazy with lazy thinking and opinions that seem to be uttered simply to draw a reaction. But some of that is the fault of the networks and the producers.

Take Michael Irvin for instance. Watch the “U Know It” segment with he and Sapp and you’ll want want a nuclear missile to be fired directly into your cerebral cortex. But listen to Irvin when he’s a guest on the radio with Jim Rome or Dan Patrick. Irvin tells good stories. He offers real insight. He loses the histrionics that make him so awful on TV.

Sapp was awful no matter where, no matter when. He offered dumb opinions that were far more catchphrases than  actual thoughts. He never wanted to have an intelligent discussion on football. He wanted to shout until you acknowledged his opinion.

Sapp was a great player. He is one of the greatest defensive linemen I’ve ever seen and I’ll never forget that side of him. But I hope he’s done with broadcasting for a long, long time, if not ever. He was hugely arrogant and virtually never said anything worthwhile. Let’s give that job to someone who will actually do some work and possibly offer us an interesting or honest opinion.

U know what I mean?

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama did a mock draft for the Eagles.

No Marcus Mariota? What a hack.

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The Eagles and the Super Bowl

Posted: February 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 241 Comments »

Great Super Bowl last night. I had mixed feelings about who I wanted to win, but I definitely wanted a good game to close out the 2014 season. And that’s exactly what I got.

Why not hate the Patriots, like so many other Eagles fans? I’m hardly a fan of theirs, but Seattle is a hard team to embrace. They’re incredibly talented, but I get tired of them as people. Marshawn Lynch’s act tires me. Richard Sherman isn’t my cup of tea. I used to love Pete Carroll at USC, but I don’t care for him in the NFL for some reason.

I also struggle with Russell Wilson. Great person, but a highly erratic player. There are times when he does some things that make you question if he should be a starting QB. Then he’ll turn around and lead the team on a key scoring drive and look like Joe Montana. He can be awful and great in the same game.

It will be interesting to see how Seattle handles this. They are the class of the NFC, but losing a Super Bowl can be tough on teams. Carroll is a great coach and that is a loaded roster so I think they’ll be a powerhouse again in 2015, You just never know.

All the talk of Tom Brady as the greatest QB of all time is now going to become highly annoying. Most accomplished? Okay, that I can live with.

As much as we love to rip on Bill Belichick, he is one of the great coaches in the history of football. Some will want to call him the greatest coach of all time. I’m sticking with Paul Brown or Bill Walsh for that title. There is no question that Belichick is the greatest coach of this era. That’s not even a close competition. And he is in the conversation for greatest of all time. You can make that argument.

More than a few people thought he was an idiot for not calling a timeout last night. Initially, I was thinking the same thing. But Bill is a super-smart guy. I asked myself why he would do that. There had to be a reason. My guess is that he wanted to keep Seattle from running the ball. If he calls a timeout, there would be about 40 seconds left and 2nd/Goal from the 1. Seattle could run the ball and if Lynch got stopped they would be able to run again on 3rd down, while still having their final timeout to use.

By letting the clock run, Seattle was only going to get one running play with Lynch. Of course, they made that strategy irrelevant by throwing the ball.

Wild ending to a great game.

* There were a couple of players on the field that the Eagles might have some interest in. CB Byron Maxwell of SEA and FS Devin McCourty of NE should be primary free agent targets if they hit the market. I think Maxwell will, but McCourty won’t.

The good news is that neither guy had a great game. They didn’t make any mistakes, but also didn’t make any game-changing plays. When that happens, it changes the market for a free agent. Both McCourty and Maxwell are going to get big deals. The price for Super Bowl heroes is just more expensive.

* Were there any lessons for the Eagles? Not much really jumps out at me. Seattle’s ability to get big chunks of yards really stood out. That’s already a philosophy that Chip Kelly believes in. The Pats were more methodical with their offense. That’s fine when your QB is Tom Brady. He can string together 10 good plays in a row. That’s not as easy with Mark Sanchez.

Seattle didn’t do much at all in the way of making defensive adjustments from what I could tell. They tend to keep it simple and let their guys execute. More than a few Eagles fans love to rip Bill Davis for his coaching. You can keep things simple if you have the right guys. It is fair to question Davis, but he really needs better players more than anything.

Maybe the biggest takeaway is the need for DBs. Seattle has the best secondary in the league. The Pats have a great corner in Darrelle Revis and a very good FS in McCourty. You need the ability to cover well and take some things away on the back end.

It helps to have some players who are physically dominant. SEA had Lynch, Sherman, Bennett and Chancellor. Mix in Chris Matthews size and Russell Wilson’s escapability as well. NE had Gronk, Wilfork, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. The Eagles have Fletcher Cox and Jason Peters. We know Kelly likes big players, but he has yet to find enough of the right guys.

Both SEA and NE are organizations run by the coach. Each has a good GM, but the coach is the one truly calling the shots. For all of those people out there who fear one person having too much power, the Super Bowl shows that works just fine…if you have the right person. Time will tell if Kelly is that guy.

* As always, I watched a bit of the postgame celebration and tried to imagine what it would be like for that to be the Eagles. Someday it will happen.

I don’t know what that day will be like, exactly, but I want that feeling. We can only guess at which coach and players will be on the field hoisting the Lombardi, but I do know that a part of Reggie, Seth, Jerome, Jaws, Donovan, Dawk, Trot, Westy, Tra, Jon and Big Red will be out there with them. The ghosts of blown Super Bowls past will be on the field, but for the right reason. When the Eagles do finally win, it will be for all the Eagles.

And that will be one glorious day.

* * * * *

Mr. Bama gave out some awards for the game. Entertaining as always.

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